Empowerment is more than a marketing buzzword or a corporate phrase. The days of having a traditional manager who gets viewed as an almost omnipotent figure are gone.
Today’s best leadership style creates a structure where the manager is closer to a coach than a supervisor. Their goal should be to help their team grow, stay engaged in the moment, and encourage discussions about the essential topics of the day.
When leaders can empower their teams to succeed, the results trickle out of the business world and into the personal realm.
What Is Empowerment?
Empowerment means that leaders get more autonomy and responsibility when completing tasks. Although leaders are still responsible for the outcomes created, the goal is to have more active participants throughout each decision-making process.
With empowerment, leaders are enabling rather than commanding. They’re delegating autonomy and self-development to encourage self-leadership strategies to naturally form. They help develop a competence taxonomy rather than a set of normed skills.
The qualities that empowerment brings to the leadership equation can occur at all levels. This singular trait increases business and individual worth, whether it’s a junior leader with a few direct reports or a CEO (Chief Executive Officer) running an executive leadership team.
When empowerment is implemented correctly, it boosts the performance of each team while enhancing the skills of individual leaders.
Those outcomes are why empowerment is such a potent contributor to the overall success of everyone involved.
What Are the Advantages of Having an Empowered Team?
When empowerment is one of the primary leadership techniques used in any situation, it provides individuals with positive development experiences. Those outcomes contribute to several potential benefits that form.
Although every situation is unique, these are the primary advantages that form through empowerment.
- Improved Communication
People put off conversations when they feel uncomfortable. No one wants to feel like they’re stepping across the line or out of their lane, especially if there is a history of negative reactions to similar past behaviors.
Empowerment encourages teams to create open lines of communication because this approach focuses on approachability. Leaders can inspire confidence by asking questions, sharing opinions, or raising the alarm if something isn’t working.
When people get treated as business commodities instead of as human beings, the impersonal nature of that relationship minimizes a team’s potential. Empowerment maximizes it.
- Additional Contributions
Empowerment doesn’t put power in the hands of one or a few. It encourages everyone to become contributors to the greater good.
The two common ways that leaders embrace empowerment today are by scheduling catch-up sessions with their teams and promoting open-door policies.
People need real-time feedback to learn and grow. Empowerment contributes to that timeline by finding the balance between micromanaging and zero communication for each team.
- Creativity and Confidence
When people get included in each decision-making process, the events positively influence their individual creativity and confidence. Teams that feel like they’re important typically come better equipped to perform tasks and stay productive.
The key to empowerment’s advantage in this area is that each team member understands their contributions are valued. When performance becomes an expectation without any gratefulness, the average person gives up and looks for somewhere else to be.
If someone feels valued, they feel more confident in trusting their instincts. They’ll use their skillset to complete the assignment while using their self-belief to offer suggestions or alternatives.
Although people can be too creative in some situations, empowerment recognizes and encourages its contribution. Leaders need people to speak up early and often.
- Potential and Purpose
Most people get lost in the to-do lists for the day. Their focus is on completing as much as they can without giving a thought to the bigger picture. Although duties are essential, so is an understanding of the role and purpose of that work in the overall scheme.
Empowerment encourages people to get involved in the planning processes instead of coming into work to put in hours or take care of tasks. They get to contribute to the decisions that take place, making them an active contributor to successful opportunities.
This approach ensures that the tasks have genuine meaning to them instead of being something that keeps people busy.
- Trust in the Leadership
That doesn’t mean a leader pushes their work onto others and does nothing for the rest of the day. The goal is to coach each person and reach out to them one-on-one to help them become a little better, encouraging them to do their best work while supporting their actions, but also understand if there are personal reasons that are holding back their actions.
Empowered people feel like their leaders won’t take advantage of their work, choosing to celebrate their wins instead. This perspective allows them to see themselves as an integral part of common success while promoting cohesion.
That’s why empowerment is a potent contributor to the success of the bottom line. When highly motivated workers are engaged in a project, they create an average of 21% more profits from their activities. 
What Are the Issues that Develop with an Empowerment Approach?
Although empowerment provides several positive contributions to the team environment, it can also create stressful situations.
When this leadership trait is handled correctly, people can make critical choices with little or no supervision. When it goes wrong, the results can be devastating for everyone involved.
|Increased Arrogance:||Empowered employees often experience increased confidence levels. Although this result creates more productivity and happiness, some people can take the outcomes too far. When people become arrogant, they stop being coachable. Some even become insubordinate.|
|Confidentiality Risks:||People cannot become empowered until they have enough information to make decisions. That means a free exchange of data and ideas must take place. This process makes people feel included and important, but it also increases a team’s security risks. Without any confidentiality controls, the potential leaks that come from a team could prove to be operationally devastating.|
|Lack of Experience:||Leaders want experienced people to feel empowered to speak up or make choices. When a team is inexperienced, the results can be unfavorable. Managers often receive training that helps them make intelligent decisions, take appropriate risks, or recognize opportunities. The average person does not, which can lead to unnecessary mistakes or dangers.|
|Relationship Issues:||Some people confuse empowerment with authority. When these individuals can take on additional responsibilities, the results can impact the co-working relationship. Conflict incidents rise, stress forms, and the tensions can develop into a hostile environment where productivity falls instead.|
|Chain of Command Confusion:||When people think they have authority, it can cause them to believe they are in charge. Leaders might empower the decision-making process, but someone may see themselves as the “assistant leader” when they’re alone with a team. This issue causes tension and stress to rise, especially when compliance is demanded.|
The Tricky Difference Between Enabling vs. Burdening
Empowerment’s goal is to encourage people to have more ownership over their decision-making processes. By embracing the diversity of multiple perspectives, it’s much easier for a team to make correct decisions.
The issue with empowerment for individuals is the scale at which it occurs. People have enough bandwidth to work up to a certain extent. If their duties push them beyond that limit, their product quality and quantity fall instead of rising.
Care should be taken not to exceed an employee’s level of competence, as this can lead to negative effects in terms of work quality, decision-making risks, or stressful and emotional interactions with the colleagues.
It also runs the risk of overwork and burn-out, as the employee is not up to the assigned tasks or responsibilities.
When one person becomes the individual that an entire team depends on for success, the outcomes can only be as large as what they can accomplish.
That’s why empowerment should focus on equal distribution. Within that structure, it offers limitless potential. People get the tools, opportunities, and authority to think and act for themselves.
Enabling creates independent doers and thinkers that produce innovative possibilities.
How can you recognize the difference between enabling and burdening? It comes from a conscious distinction where balance is recognized in each person. What feels like independence to one individual might become a stressful situation for another.
How to Recognize When Someone Feels Overwhelmed
Everyone gets to a point where they feel overwhelmed at times. It’s the nature of the human experience.
We don’t know what the day might bring to any of us, which means there’s always a small amount of stress lingering in the background. If something unexpected happens, the burdens start growing until they take over one’s emotional state.
When people can’t shake the feeling that they’ve been overwhelmed or burdened, it leads to chronic stress. That outcome can produce several emotional and physical symptoms that affect an individual’s performance and well-being.
It’s crucial for today’s leaders to recognize when people start feeling overwhelmed. Although empowerment offers good intentions, the approach to it might need to change to ensure the positive attributes receive more recognition.
Here are the different ways that a person who feels burdened or overwhelmed might react.
- Racing Heart and Trouble Breathing. Stress causes the fight-or-flight mechanism to function in the human body. Once that natural reaction starts working overtime, anxiety takes over instead of confidence. Leaders can observe people fighting to breathe, sitting down because of a racing heartbeat, and other symptoms related to panic attacks. 
- Complaints of Aches and Pains. Stress causes the body’s muscles to tighten. People who feel chronically burdened might complain of headaches, joint pain, or even dizziness. This issue can even have an adverse impact on the immune system.
- Emotional Changes. People with heavy burdens often cry easily, display irritability, and often withdrawal. If someone keeps disappearing whenever the team’s leader offers empowerment opportunities, that’s a sign the efforts have gone from something positive to something negative.
- Guilt and Anger Expressions. When people take on extra chores they don’t want or end up being an individual’s sounding board too often, the outcome can cause feelings like guilt and anger to form. These emotions generate extra stress, which continues the unwanted cycle.
- Lack of Focus. If people are trying to complete too many projects or tasks simultaneously, their concentration levels are typically lower. Leaders might see increases in apathy and procrastination. In severe cases, this burden causes sleep disruptions that can trigger other unwanted symptoms. 
How to Stop People from Feeling Burdened
When people start underperforming, some leaders think the issue has to do with insubordination or a lack of experience. That might be the case in some situations; however, it cannot be solved by the leader merely assigning the task to the burdened person to make an individualized proposal of how the issues will be solved or what it takes to get organized in the daily work.
When it comes to the enablement vs. burdening dilemma for empowerment, it is possible to turn things around with a few simple strategies.
First, it helps to have an honest conversation about what is happening. When people can talk honestly and openly about how they feel, the burdening problem is usually easy to correct.
Some people feel burdened when they get lots of information all at once. If this issue holds back empowerment positivity, leaders can change how data moves to each person.
Secondly, the responsibility needs acceptance by the leader to work with the employee to establish a new, clear delimitation and understanding of the tasks and responsibilities assigned.
In order to bring the situation to a successful resolution, it is important that the employee is accompanied over a period of time and given the opportunity to understand, develop, internalize and integrate a new approach into their everyday work. This outcome can only occur through well-coached interactions, receipt of supportive training, identification and relinquishment of irrelevant tasks and responsibilities, additional delegation, and the implementation of a stricter, more effective work methodology that fits within the responsibility levels assigned. Even productive workers require breaks and sufficient rest.
Empowerment is sometimes hampered by a lack of specificity. Leaders can try to rephrase requests or what the current situation is to ensure a greater understanding of the expectations.
Finally, it helps people when leaders let them know that they’re on their side. Empowerment is a process that includes everyone.
A Final Thought on Empowering Leaders
When people feel empowered, they are more likely to take ownership over their decision-making processes. Instead of looking for excuses, these leaders seek answers, take intelligent risks, and work hard to build trust.
Instead of consolidating power away from talented people, today’s leadership approach must look for participation through diverse perspectives and opinions.
When leaders from different backgrounds, cultures, and educational opportunities work together, they are more likely to find the best path forward. If the group comes from the same mindset, issues with tunnel vision often develop.
When opposing ideas receive validation and support, it is possible to build a strong team.
That’s why the emphasis must be on enabling. When there isn’t support in that equation, leaders will feel burdened instead.
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