The forces requiring companies to continually change, transform and improve are becoming progressively more compelling in today’s business environment. This is the result of a globalized economy, the shifting sands of deregulation and re-regulation, accelerated technological advances, and the competitive challenges posed by emerging companies.
Dealing with these forces can precipitate a crisis atmosphere in many companies as they attempt to retain market share in the midst of breakneck industry changes and political shifts. As these challenges have a definite effect on organizations and their ability to remain flexible and competitive, leaders can easily stumble into any number of pitfalls when striving to meet them. Empowerment is needed for an organization as a whole to surmount problems, issues and events that surface without warning, and to achieve the necessary growth these new pressures demand.
It is important for an organization and its top leaders to understand that power needs to flow to lower-level leaders and employees whose tasks; projects and assignments are needed to deal effectively with critical problems. The capacity of a company to strengthen itself comes from the empowerment of its members, which has its origin in the degree to which the organization is willing to share power with its leaders and employees.
In today’s climate, “power” is not found in controlling events and circumstances within the organization or outside its boundaries. Power is not focused on the personal gain, recognition or advancement of its individual leaders. It is a collective synergy found among all organizational members, a dynamis, or tireless energy that permeates the atmosphere. This is the inevitable result of delegating and including all leaders and employees in all processes that move the organization forward.
Pitfalls emerge when organizations fall short in actually sharing power where and when called for. This is most often the reason why the concept of empowerment fails to take root in an organization and become a concrete, beneficial driving force.
Many organizations often hold beliefs and views that run counter to empowerment. They are often shortsighted and ignore the fact that collectively, their members are the most critical resource they have to move forward.
When organizations take a myopic view they fail to realize the actual potential strength they have at their disposal, and do not utilize their leaders and employees to their best advantage. They often claim leadership and empowerment as primary goals, but fall short in actual attempts to develop a climate conducive to supporting them. This is generally the result of falling into common pitfalls.
Maintaining that Power Is a Fixed Sum
Traditional organizational thinking promotes the idea that power is a fixed sum; i.e., if one person has more, others have less. Organizations and individuals within it who share this belief are also reluctant to share power. They hold on tightly to it.
However, this philosophy seriously retards the accomplishment of extraordinary things through mutual, collective efforts. This is the real barrier to empowerment: when managers and even employees hoard whatever power they have.
This generates powerlessness in others. In turn it generates organizational systems where political skills become “business as usual.” These are actively used to “cover oneself” and “pass the buck.” They become the preferred styles for handling interdepartmental differences and lagging productivity and results.
At the same time these actions and their motives create disharmony and hindering roadblocks to cooperative and creative efforts for necessary innovation. An organization will find its products, quality, and services suffer when these wanting political skills are consistently applied, and where eliminating them is overlooked or ignored.
Failing to Provide Organizational Discretion and Autonomy
Applying discretion and autonomy within an organization comes from actively supporting its members and trusting in their ability to take decisive action whenever and wherever necessary. It includes the right to exercise independent judgment, and to make decisions that affect how one does his or her job without having to check in with upper levels every time issues and concerns surface. Without embracing and promoting elements of discretion and autonomy, an organization’s total support network is diminished and ultimately destroyed.
The opportunity to be flexible, creative and adaptive is what enables an organization to make most productive use of its resources in moving ahead and overcoming challenges. If organizations allow for individual discretion, leaders and employees will have greater opportunity to apply their creativity and collective intelligence. They will have more choices about how to successfully accomplish given goals and objectives.
In addition, when an organization practices flexible discretion, it generates higher levels of responsibility and a greater sense of obligation among all members, as all individually feel more powerful and in control of events and circumstances that would otherwise overwhelm them.
Falling Short in Identifying the Real Sources of an Organization’s Power
Within an organization, traditional power is generally thought of as having and maintaining control over its resources. However, the real power of an organization is found in its individual leaders and through their employee groups.
This is where the organization’s crucial problems can be solved to ensure its long-term success and viability. An organization can emphasize its willingness to acknowledge the power of its leaders and employees by:
- Involving all members in its planning and directives.
- Allowing delegation to be an active part of its culture with full trust and confidence that goals and objectives will be met.
- Creating and implementing an empowered spirit and team attitude throughout the organization.
- Finding unique ways to reward leaders and all other members for accomplishments large and small.
Being Reluctant to Give Power Away to Strengthen Others
Upper management must embrace the idea that the only potential market power and strength they have is maintained by the mutual efforts of their subordinate leaders and employees. It is dependent upon a positive interconnection and interaction among all three parties.
Organizations must recognize the necessity of giving power away to others. Upper management must actively practice four principles that strategically strengthen the organization and the members within it. They include:
- Giving leaders the power to use their own personal judgment in the delegation of critical assignments and decision-making. This includes them then empowering their employees to modify methods and processes to increase quality, productivity and innovation.
- Allowing leaders and other members greater discretion and autonomy over resources, projects, direction and outcomes.
- Developing an atmosphere that builds relationships, connecting leaders and employees with other powerful people within the organization that can mentor, sponsor and coach them.
- Promoting visibility and strengthening people within the organization by sharing information and increasing flexibility in work-related activities. Top management must be able to actively enable others to act with the organization’s best interests at heart, with realistic levels of accountability and without the risk of potential negative consequences.
Excerpt: Organizational Empowerment: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011)