Leaders should not empower their teams. We should not empower women. We should not empower under-represented minorities.
As far back as I can recall, I’ve struggled with this word. Empower, for me, carries deep connotations of giving someone power.
Of patronising people with power.
But I don’t believe you can give someone power. What you can do is to create an environment where anyone can flourish.
… but only if they choose to…
If you *give* someone power, one of two things is likely to happen.
They may become even more deferential to you – i.e. you will increase your own power over them – as the person who patronised them. A cynical out come if that’s what you want, but certainly not one that leaves them truly empowered.
Or they will abuse it as they’re unlikely to have deepened their own understanding of the responsibility that comes with power as you’ve robbed them of that opportunity.
So if I’m in a meeting and I ask someone who doesn’t often speak for their opinion, it’s not empowerment. To see it as empowerment is condescending.
No, all I’m doing is creating an environment where everyone’s voices can be heard. Asking someone because I genuinely value what they have to say. It is then up to them to speak or not. It is their power, not one I’ve given them.
You can inspire. You can suggest direction. You can mentor.
You can support. You can challenge.
You can remove systemic and cultural obstacles. You can work to level playing fields. You can treat people fairly.
You can be conscious to your own biases. You can be conscious to your organisation’s biases.
All of this, you can and should do.
But empower? No. You can only empower yourself. And for you to empower someone else is only to reaffirm your power over theirs and to rob them of the self-respect of their achievement.
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