I once heard the president of a multi-billion-dollar business give the following charge to his leadership team: “You are all empowered! I now need you to go back to your people and make sure they know they are empowered, too!!”
Or as the commanding officer said to his troops: “All liberty is canceled until morale improves!”
The business president seemed to think that empowerment was just another item in his bag of motivational goodies, like bonuses and attaboys.
But empowerment isn’t something to be dispensed in a magnanimous burst of managerial noblesse oblige. Rather, it’s a psychological state in which a person exists.
Empowerment, properly understood, is this: a feeling of safety while exercising judgment on the job. The president’s leadership team can go back and tell their people that they are empowered, but if their people don’t feel empowered—that’s feel empowered—then they’re not empowered.