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Can you empower people too much?

I am a big advocate for empowering people but can we empower people too much?


I received an interesting comment on my post the double edged sword of being smart as a leader, that some leaders go the other extreme of 'empowering' people.


“Some leaders effectively delegate the whole problem/challenge (OK so far) but then do not provide any guidance on what success would look like (other than worthless platitudes), refuse to take decisions on trade offs (it needs to be cheap and great quality...) and give no guidance on how to tackle what are often extremely complex and/or political problems.”


I can see that this kind of ‘empowering’ is problematic. It's a great distinction about balance and what 'empower' really means.


Here are the definitions of empower

Empower (verb)

  1. Give (someone) the authority or power to do something.
  2. Make (someone) stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights.


The first is often what we consider when empowering people in the workplace. It allows people to make decisions and take action. Great.


The second is not often considered and is related to my colleague's comment. Do we help to make people stronger and confident when we give people authority or delegate? 


Delegating with appropriate support and guidance is empowering, simply demanding people take accountability without appropriate support is disempowering. Of course the big challenge is working out what is appropriate for each person, as each individual has different strengths, weaknesses and needs. 


How do you help to make people stronger and more confident when you empower them with greater authority?

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