E mpowerment is a confusing word. It’s also known as being authentic, taking ownership, choosing accountability, partnership, or being collaborative. It is the source of many questions like: “What is it all about? How do I become empowered? How do I empower my employees? How do I hold them accountable?”
Empowerment is about a mindset, an approach to how we work with and relate to others. It is a mindset that I choose—a mindset that believes, “I am the result of choices I make and I am accountable for the outcomes.”
(An example) During a Flawless Consulting Skills workshop, I met Kelly, who was unhappy in her job. When I asked her why she stayed, she said, “I have to stay, I don’t have a choice.” Curious, I asked why and she told me that members of her family had health issues that were covered by the organization’s insurance. If she left, she’d lose that.
What I heard was that the consequences of a choice to leave were unbearable. Yet she still had a choice. The choice was how to show up at work every day—thankful for a job that helped her family, or blaming others and the organization for a miserable life.
She was not empowered! Her mindset had been to blame her circumstance on others and take no accountability for her choice to stay. I saw Kelly again a few weeks later and noticed a significant change. She had chosen to be grateful and told me it had changed her life.
So, the first step towards empowerment is to change your mindset to move toward choice and ownership.
(Another example) Terry, a manager, wanted to empower her employees. Her mindset was that, as the boss, she had to control the work by setting the directions, laying out the plan, monitoring work, and holding the employee accountable for the results.
When Terry assigned a project to Bill, her conversations went: “Here’s what I want you to do and this is how you should do it. You will be accountable for the results. Any questions?” Of course, Bill’s response was, “No questions.” He kept quiet and complied with Terry’s plans, because it felt too risky to speak out.
In this conversation, Terry owned the project, not Bill. Bill was not empowered! Bill had limited ownership in the project. Such conversations keep the status quo and do not help create a culture of empowerment. So, moving towards empowerment means changing your conversations.
Here’s a reality… either Terry or Bill can change the conversation. For Terry, it means being less directive and asking more questions. By asking Bill how he wants to handle the project, Terry offers him more choice and ownership.
For Bill, it means having the courage to express, with compassion, how he wants to handle the project and what he wants from Terry to be successful. When he chooses to express his wants, he becomes accountable for the project and moves toward being empowered.
Flawless Consulting Skills workshops help participants see the choices they make about how they approach consulting and the impact of those choices. Peter Block calls this “confronting them with their choices.” This helps them realize what their mindset is and consider changing it.
Flawless Consulting Skills workshops also provide time and coaching for participants to practice new conversations that encourage expressing wants and dealing with resistance. Practice is the key! Practice in a friendly environment builds courage to use the skills in real life.
An empowerment mindset can be a life/career changer. I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions. Drop me a note. Let me know what you think.
Charles L. Fields
Charles L Fields, Senior Consultant at Designed Learning, has traveled the world by car, rail, plane, and ship; watched the sun rise on Croagh Patrick and set on Victoria Peak; weathered a perfect storm in the Pacific; bartered for a darbuka in the Grand Bazaar; prayed at Lord Nelson’s Sarcophagus; eaten lunch in the oldest restaurant in the world; and presented Flawless Consulting and Empowerment workshops in over 25 countries. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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