The word “empowerment” is used a lot in public health. Public health empowers communities to take control of their health and well-being and in our work we aim to empower individuals to make healthy choices. In the leadership development world, we also use the word empowerment a great deal – leaders should empower their coworkers. Far too often, however, we fail to truly empower those with whom we work. Micromanagement, the opposite of empowerment, prevails. For some reason it is hard for many leaders to let go of the “how” of management and instead focus on the “what” of leading: the vision, the mission, the outcomes.
Maybe it is because many leaders come from backgrounds where they were rewarded for accomplishing tasks – grant writing, compiling reports and convening meetings. As we moved up the leadership ladder, our leaders empowered us to do more, make more decisions, be part of vision setting. But we never let go of the task-focused work of management and we never delegated what we used to do to other folks with whom we work.
Empowering others means delegating work of which they can take ownership. Our role as leaders is to ensure that the work gets done well, fits with our organizational vision and priorities, and moves us forward. Delegating means giving something up; it means trusting that others can accomplish what they were hired to do. And for some managers, that just feels too risky. We have all had experiences where we were not empowered: we felt constrained and controlled, not trusted and empowered to do the work as we truly wanted to do it.
Gary Burnison views empowerment as an absolute of leadership – without empowering those that we work with, a leader cannot truly lead. He writes that, “when people feel empowered to do more, they will become more; a team of ‘yes people’ isn’t a team, it’s a dictatorship; and don’t confuse differences of opinion with disloyalty. Empowered people should speak their minds.” Do you have an experience of being empowered? Can you relate to what Burnison says – that the more empowered the people, the stronger the team? Certainly we aim to empower our staff here at AMCHP – we want them to use their best judgment and professional experience to the benefit of our members and our partners. We know that when people feel empowered, trusted to accomplish the work we are here to do, we get positive results. Can we do better? Yes. Empowerment is both a destination and a journey. Where are you in empowering your team? Are you empowered as an MCH leader? If you want to learn more, Burnison’s chapter on empowerment might be a good resource for you!
[This is the sixth installment in a continuing series on The Twelve Absolutes of Leadership by Gary Burnison. If you would like to get your own copy of The Twelve Absolutes of Leadership and follow along over the next few months, you can order it online via the AMCHP link to Amazon.com. AMCHP receives a small royalty for all orders placed via this link. The opinions of the author, and of Mike, are their own and are not the official position of AMCHP.]