3 min read

In the 90s, empowerment was the rage in the leadership literature. The theory (or practice if you want to call it that) went something like this: If you give power to make decisions to those who immediately interface with your customers, not only will customer satisfaction increase, but you will also be building tomorrow’s leaders. While the wording has been drained of its impact through overuse, I believe empowerment does in fact accomplish these important functions. What do you think?

I know. The question that immediately comes to mind is: “How can I possibly trust my front-line employees with that kind of decision-making power? You don’t know them. I have to stay on top of them all the time just to get work out of them.” Well, maybe that kind of close management is actually causing some of your problem.

One thing is certain: it is definitely more challenging to be an empowering leader than it is to be a controlling manager. It is true that people can make bad decisions and often do. But haven’t you made some bad decisions at times? Let’s be honest. No individual or corporate body of individuals has all the wisdom. Whereas those who interact daily with their customers often have direct knowledge — experiential knowledge — of what satisfies the customer and how to improve your organization.

Do you have sufficient humility to acknowledge that fact? Or are you caught up in the prestige scam that only seeks to protect territorial rights and the need to dominate others?

I was talking to a young lady today who works as a waitress in a family-style restaurant. She said: “My boss is evil. Ha ha.”

When I asked her to explain she went into a long story about how she has developed a personal philosophy that every day her goal is to find customers who come into the restaurant looking down-trodden or sad and have them leave with a smile.” Wow! I thought. That’s the kind of employee I want for my company!

So, do you think her boss responded that way? No way. She derides her for the tiniest flaws, such as having a piece of lint on her dress or not placing the silverware just right on the tables. She talks down to her and, when the young lady makes any kind of suggestion for improvement, the manager says: “That’s the stupidest idea you have had yet.”

Maybe (just maybe) this is an exceptional case. This manager is clearly threatened by the quality of work the young lady displays and — more importantly — by the way the customers REALLY LIKE HER.

What is happening is that the manager approaches her position as a conquest, a piece of territory she has acquired and which she will protect at all costs. She feels she may lose a piece of that territory if she would acknowledge any superior ideas or skills coming from a person of inferior position.

What she doesn’t realize is that true prestige comes from giving away power — in measured quantities, of course, as those receiving it are able to manage it for themselves. This is an expansive approach to management, one that see the function of management as growing people and one that possesses sufficient internal security that they are able to release power for the good of the organization.

Real benefits can be gained from spreading the decision-making power throughout the organization. People learn by doing and — when you give them a chance — they love to fulfill your belief in their ability to excel.

We all need to ask ourselves: “Am I a hoarder of power, bent on protecting my place in the company?” Or “Do I regularly and systematically share power to help others develop their full capacity?”


Photo by dragan, Licensed under Morguefile.com.

Portrait of Dr. Waddell

Dr. Greg Waddell is passionate about helping church leaders equip their people for ministry. He believes there is wild potential in every believer that begs to be released. He can help you develop and implement practical strategies for increasing the ministry capacity of your congregation.