Power, Delegation, Engagement, …

sad%20man%20at%20table Employees only have so much power…call it whatever you like; but when executives, leaders and managers talk about employee empowerment it is often with a misguided sense of understanding. It is very easy to say that:

“We will find people that are willing and able to pull themselves up by the boot straps..” and
“Our associates will be ’empowered’ to hit the ground running…”
“Our employees have power! They have power within their role and projects they deliver to decide…”

yada yada. but the fact remains that it is often much harder to see the results from the expectations these statements suggest. If you have been an underling, which most of us have at one point or another, I bet you  would disagree more often than not with your superiors on how much power you truly possess.

Giving “Instruction” is not the same as “Transferring Power”

To give someone an assignment of a project and the instruction to complete that project assignment is not the same thing as transferring authority (or power) to a person for that project.  All good members of management should know that.

But the sea of meetings and clouds of ego can sometimes allow us to forget that, in the end, employees with no authoritative power do not have much power at all. To ask an employee to lead a project and expect specific results is possible but not guaranteed. It can be even more difficult to expect and ask those same employees to make high level decisions knowing that the decisions they are making will not be taken into consideration toward the end goal.

It is simply an exercise of false empowerment.

This can leave the employee in a worse situation and mindset than they were in before. Instead of going on with the mindless task that you may have assigned them, now they begin to feel less-than or disgruntled while still going on with the same mindless task. 

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When you see an associate with this smile on their face as if they are He-Man screaming “IIIII  Haaavvvve the PowwweeeeerrRRRRRR!!!” it can be a sad sight to see when you and I know they actually do not have that level of power.

In the end employees only have 3 powers:

  1. The powerto do or not do extraordinary work ,
  2. The power to leave or stay with a company,
  3. The power to keep doing what they can to obtain power until 1 or 2 occur.

If you continue to give an associates a false sense of power it will end up kicking you in the backside, leading employees to choose to pick the more negative side of point 1 and 2.


All that being said, do not nail me to a stake. I do believe firmly that employees who are not in power positions can have influence. That those same employees can be autonomous in the roles and projects they work. Those employees may not have power but one thing they may be able to build and retain is influence! That type of influence is entirely in their control. You either build it or you don’t.

What do you think?



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