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Not Everyone Can Be Empowered

Workplace empowerment is commonly touted as a strategy to enhance employee engagement and performance. Yet, managers are frequently confronted with the harsh reality that not all employees can be empowered equally. Some cannot even decide what to have for lunch!


I think it is stupid to teach empowerment without understanding what are the ingredients to an empowered individual starting with a massive dose of cultural background.


Some culture (collectivist) does not encourage empowerment, and I see that every day! Some people just need to be told what to do and they will do it even if it is the wrong thing to do. They follow instructions and will say "I knew it would not work" when things go wrong.


Then you have certain characteristics and skills empowered people have that make them empowered. To be in the driver's seat and make decisions or take action one needs; self-awareness, self-esteem, confidence, a sense of accountability and responsibility, or diligence.

All these are founded in our genetic personality traits (that's why I run personality assessments with senior leaders) and studies have shown the link between extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness and empowerment. Read here.


Yet, we push this nonsensical empowerment agenda in organisations without knowing whether or not people have what it takes to be empowered. I have seen senior leaders complaining about not being allowed to take action but when you dig deep they are the ones that cannot because of their characteristics.


By selling the empowerment agenda we have created their delusion that they can do it, and be empowered by their titles, but when put to the test (position) they find it difficult (by nature) and they look for "excuses" that explain their inability to make decisions and act without guidance. Because approval is that! Guidance, and not allowing someone to do something.


Maybe it is time that we hire people who understand people so we won't create delusions in the workplace. Delusion or false beliefs lead to wrong actions.


I do not have a problem with line employees not being able to make decisions and just wanting to follow instructions. The problem is that we sold managers and leaders the idea that everyone can do that and must do that. This changed the way they manage people and also their expectations which led to wrong management practices.


There will always be few people amongst line employees who naturally take decisions, step forward, and are accountable and responsible for their actions even if they have done something wrong. Those are your future leaders! Not the ones who are good at their jobs, have great connections or are put through leadership programs or an empowerment course.


Then you have fear based on socio-economic circumstances. Some people are empowered but the mortgage, the cost of raising three kids and the car loan are bigger than their innate ability to take the authority to make decisions and act in a way that is not in line with the system or the bosses.


Abandon the idea that everyone can be empowered, it leads to bad practices and misery from all sides. Most people perform best when told what and how. Isn't that what we want? People to perform well? So why would you take that away based on a false belief?


Give people what they need to perform. And please, don't put people in leadership positions who cannot make decisions or take action without support! That's another form of misery for all of us!

If you want to learn about yourself drop me a message. We run two assessments and I will tell you everything you need to know. Scary hey? But it is better to face reality so you can take action.



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