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QUIT TRYING TO EMPOWER THEM (and what to do instead)


I don’t intimidate easily but when the Global Head of Talent Management of a Fortune 500 company stared at me from the Skype window on my computer, my eyebrows hit the ceiling. In the split second it takes to read someone’s face, his was a reflection of an annoyed and confused, though slightly curious, executive.

He didn’t disconnect our call, and I took that as a good sign.

What had happened? I’d delivered one sentence that challenged his most basic assumption about leadership.

I’d said, “If you want an empowered organization, the first thing you need to do is quit trying to empower your people”. This, I might mention, after he’d delivered a four-minute monologue on the various practices he’d put into place, with the end goal of empowering his people.


Forging ahead, I explained to him what I meant. Here’s a peek inside our conversation…..

The word ‘empower’ is right up there with the best of hyperbole, misnomers and generally misappropriated words.

For example, you may say….

* I’m so hungry I could eat a horse. * I’ve told you a million times. * I have a ton of homework.

* I want to empower you to succeed.

But the reality is…

* You can’t possibly eat a horse (and why would you even want to?). * You’d be hard pressed to say anything a million times (and live through it). * No teacher in the history of all time has ever assigned 2000 pounds of homework. * Trying to empower someone else to succeed is a waste of both of your time.

None of these things are even possible.

Trying to empower someone else is like

trying to reach the refrigerator from the bathroom -W.O.W. #347

In other words, you’re standing in the wrong place and you can’t get there from here.

You cannot empower your employees. You cannot empower your organization.You cannot empower your kids.

Only they can do that for themselves. You are the only one who can empower yourself.

Empowerment is an internal, self-centric conversation. It’s Robert’s relationship with Robert or Josie’s relationship to Josie. There is no room for you in that conversation. What you can do is encourage, support or enable an individual or a team’s empowerment by letting them do the job you hired them to do.

Consider this:

* If your friend had an itch, would scratching your body ease her discomfort?

* If your spouse had a cold, would your taking medicine shorten their cold cycle?

* If your employee has poor work boundaries, is reluctant to speak up in meetings, or allows others to steal their ideas, would your healthy boundaries, willingness to speak up in meetings or assertiveness in confronting others empower them?


You might present yourself as a role model for boundaries, executive presence or assertiveness, but it’s up to your employee to pick up that cue and run with it. Or not.

You get the idea.

You might want to look at it this way- the word ‘empower’ means “the authority or power given to someone to do something.” So, when did you become the boss of me?” Or, as my mom used to say, “Who died and left you boss?”

Irrespective of what anyone tells you, you are in charge of your own personal and professional life. So are the people in your organization. Unless you are in a hostage situation, you don’t have the power to change anyone’s life, to transform their circumstances or to rescue them from the choices they’ve made. That’s the good news, by the way.

So quit it!

You want to empower the people who work for you?

Do this instead:

* Be a role model for authentic and courageous leadership. Encourage your team to be authentic, courageous and express themselves fully.

Acknowledge them when they do.

* Be open and honest about your career aspirations and your desire to move up the ladder.

Encourage the individuals on your team to talk about their goals and aspirations.

Provide them with the training and skills they’ll need to get to whatever destination they choose.

Acknowledge them when they do.

* Create trust, compassion, empathy and respect in your org by being trustworthy, compassionate, empathetic and respectful for those in front of you and behind you.

Encourage your employees to respect themselves; their experience, skills, aptitude and attitude.

Acknowledge the choices they make that support said values.

* Create an environment that celebrates curiosity, learning and a Growth Mindset. Ask them what they need from you to empower themselves.

Acknowledge their intentions and help them make it happen. For themselves.

To be sure, you can create an environment that lets people unleash their own potential.

But you can’t do it for them. Your granting someone permission to be the best version of themselves is a fantasy you need to wake up from because it puts the power with you when, in reality, it’s with them.

Something miraculous happens when people get it in their bones that they’re responsible for their own empowerment.

Something magnificent is created when people ‘figure it out’ and truly own that the way they come to the choices they make is the most empowering thing they can do for themselves (and the world).

Quit trying to empower people and, instead, demonstrate through your own mindset, words and actions, what empowerment looks and feels like.

In other words, empower the people in your life to empower themselves, but quit trying to empower them.

#empowerment #softskills #essentialpeopleskills #leadership

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WomenThink™ partners with leaders of public, private, and non-profit global organizations to transform their female workforce into a high-performing LeaderForce™; attracting, developing, and retaining the best female talent as a result of creating an uncommon culture of equitable empowerment.

 For more than 29 years, WomenThink’s CEO, Nancy D. Solomon, has been a force for change and the go-to women’s leadership expert in traditionally male-dominated industries such as technology, banking, and finance, worldwide.

 She is a bold, courageous, and unapologetic advocate for women and has helped thousands remove the barriers to their fulfillment and success.

 As a result of their work with us, our clients build and sustain a vibrant, robust force of female leaders, equipped to manage the helm, and the highest offices of corporations across the globe. Our clients include Microsoft, Target, Acura, Amazon, Nordstrom, Wellpoint, and Westin and, as well as many passionate individuals.

 Schedule a meeting with us to begin the conversation of how we can accelerate your current transformation initiatives, as well as identify the future of leadership for your organization.

Known as The Impact Expert, she is the main stage speaker, expert trainer, and veteran coach who helps leaders solve key issues related to leadership development, employee engagement, and advancing women. She is the author of the acclaimed book: Impact! What Every Woman Needs to Know to Go from Invisible to Invincible and is currently working on her next book.