Feeling Empowered

Empowering those around you is consistently a trait of all great leaders. Teams of empowered people can achieve amazingly high levels of success.

My question is “what is empowerment?” How do you learn it, can you pass it on, can you take it with you, and can you delegate it?  Is it measurable, manageable, and discoverable?  If all great leaders have it, specifically what do they have?

To try to understand empowerment, look up “empowerment” on the internet. The definitions and quotes cover many diverging management ideas that often conflict with each other.  One of the best quotes about empowerment is.

“People want guidance, not rhetoric. They need to know what the plan of action is and how it will be implemented. They want to be given responsibility to help solve the problem and the authority to act on it.”Howard Schultz, Starbucks

But is simply giving instructions and responsibility to your team empowerment? Many definitions suggest that all you need to do is hire the right people and stay out of their way.  But is that all there is to empowerment?

Another perception of empowerment is you need to assume command, take charge, and be in control. Don’t wait for something to be given, but if you want something done, take over and get it done yourself.  It seems this is a hostile project take-over version of empowerment.

Despite all the 21st century ideas about empowerment, I think the greatest example of empowerment is found in John 21 in the Bible. To paraphrase this great story, Jesus had been crucified, died, was buried and resurrected.  He appeared many times to his believers and on one such event appeared to His disciples who had gone back to fishing.

Many of Jesus’s disciples were fishermen before they became disciples, and once Jesus was gone, they returned to fishing despite being given all the training and tools they needed to continue the work Christ started. His team failed to follow through on the promises and commitments they made while with Jesus.

In this story, Jesus shows up on the lake’s shore and before he is recognized, tells the fishermen, who had yet to catch any fish despite fishing all night, where to throw their nets. Bingo, the nets are full to the point of breaking.  They immediately recognize it is Jesus, the only man who can predict where to fish.

Once on shore, Jesus and Peter have a life changing conversation about leadership and empowerment (John 21:15-17).

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

Again, Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said,

“Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.

Jesus’s interaction with Peter is powerful. Peter had been well trained yet was questioning himself whether he was capable of the tasks that Jesus had laid at his feet.  In fact, Peter quit.  Jesus engaged him relationally to reinforce what he had been taught.  Thorough out the three years of travelling together, Jesus had taught Peter to trust and love Him.  Peter need to be reminded of that and be given the confidence he needed.  Jesus did not berate or ridicule Peter.  He did not take over any of Peter’s responsibilities.  He simply reinforced to Peter that Peter had all the tools he needed to be successful and that Jesus would always be there for him.  Peter went on from here to be the rock of the Christian faith.

It’s true we need to hire good people.  We also need to stay out of their way.  When given a responsibility, we also need to take charge and see it through.

But as employers and owners, the most important thing we need to do is provide good instructions, and then stand back letting the employee know they can do their job.