In previous articles I explored the difference between delegation and empowerment. I suggested that delegation is something you “do” to people, whereas empowerment is something people have to do for “themselves.” In brief delegation comes from the organizational structure and involves the transfer of authority and responsibility. Empowerment is more intrinsic and involves taking increasing ownership through self-actualization and initiative. We delegate tasks and the authority to do the tasks, but we empower employees to take initiative to complete tasks without delegating them.
This article explores the concept of power as it applies to empowerment. However, we can’t talk about empowerment without first talking about interpersonal power and a power-dependency relationship between the LeaderManager and members of his or her team.
What is interpersonal power? Simply put it is A’s capacity to influence the behavior of B so that B acts in accordance with A’s wishes. When someone influences another or a group of people to act in a certain way, that individual has power over them. Make no mistake about it, a LeaderManager has power over others but it’s how he or she uses that power that counts. It can be used positively or negatively. Let’s look at the different types of power LeaderManagers have and the ways in which they can misuse them.
Types of Power:
Coercive Power: This is the use of power by force, where fear is a consequence. Coercive power may be appropriate in circumstances where safety or health is concerned. Think about a regulation that if not followed garners a significant fine. In this sense one is coerced to follow the regulation for fear of a fine. When LeaderManagers instill fear using ‘coercive power’ without due cause then it is usually misplaced. In such cases LeaderManagers use this type of power by instilling fear as a consequence of not doing what is being asked. It’s presented in such a way that it’s “my way, or the highway.”
Reward Power: Under the heading ‘Reward Power,’ a LeaderManager can dole out special benefits or rewards to individuals or teams. Rewards come in the form of job assignments, schedules, pay or benefits. LeaderManagers can do this in a just way, for instance, an employee is hired to do a job and receives payment and benefits accordingly. They can also use ‘reward power’ to manipulate others: “You do this, and you will get that.” Performance appraisals are at times packed with misuses of reward power. Often ‘reward power’ turns into internal trade wars with people competing for favors.
Legitimate Power: With ‘Legitimate Power’ or ‘Positional Power’ the LeaderManager can expect, considering his or her position and the employee’s job responsibilities, the employee to comply with legitimate requests. The misuse of this power could occur when the LeaderManager is caught up in her position to such an extent that she overuses it. Sometimes this can boarder on bullying such as “do this because I said so,” or “do this because I’m your boss.”
Expert Power: Many LeaderManagers have advanced within an organization or have been hired from outside because of their expertise. Knowledgeable LeaderManagers can be a blessing for an employee or a block to employee growth. A blessing when employees refer to them for advice and help; a block when they think they ‘know it all’ and coerce (there’s that power force again) others to do it their way because they know best. In this latter instance they do not give employees room to develop or try new approaches. The result stifles innovation.
Referent Power: Referent Power occurs when the LeaderManager likes an employee and enjoys doing things for him or her. “Referent power’ could also be used in reverse. The employee enjoys doing things for the LeaderManager. It becomes a force for mutual admiration. Not that there is anything wrong with this. In fact, when done appropriately it makes for a happy workplace. However, it goes awry when ‘favoritism’ becomes the norm and the LeaderManager pits one against or over another.
Information Power: The LeaderManager often has data or knowledge that employees need to do their job correctly or to ensure the team is working collaboratively and appropriately. That information should always be shared. There are times when the LeaderManager may have information that he should not share. It is deemed confidential information. When approached about that information the LeaderManager can change the subject, say nothing or say it is a confidential matter. What he shouldn’t do is open the door to the subject then say, “I have the information, but can’t share it with you.” Or “I know something that you don’t.”
Connection Power: LeaderManagers have connections with other powerful people within an organization. They often have close ties with owners, shareholders, other managers and leaders, as well as other movers and shakers within the wider community. They can be door openers for employees who are on a developmental track. They can also be door closers. Inappropriate use of ‘connection power’ occurs when the LeaderManager threatens or hints to an employee that he has the power to both open and close doors for her unless she follows his directives.
Moving to Empowerment
When we talk about sharing power through delegation or using influencing power as mentioned above we are not talking about ‘empowering power.’ Empowerment allows others to use their power. It gives employees the freedom to make decisions and commitments on behalf of themselves. It goes beyond delegation and could be referred to as “delegation for grownups”. It is a process that gives the individual room to grow and develop. They take on power for themselves to make decisions in the best interest of their organization, colleagues and customers.
Empowerment also comes with an important caveat. It comes with concomitant responsibility and accountability. It is about individuals taking ownership, responsibility and accountability for the choices they make and the resultant outcomes. Individuals take power unto themselves but they are accountable.
LeaderManagers cannot empower anyone, but they can create an environment where the empowerment message can grow. The more they give authority to employees to make decisions and take action on their own, the more likely the employees will learn to become empowered.
Be careful however, empowerment is not a “right” but a privilege and people need to first earn the privilege to become empowered.
“…every employee should earn the right to make a broader decision, take on additional authority, or be given latitude and discretion. Earned empowerment is the only valid empowerment culture…..Accountability and responsibility should always precede privilege. Give new employees the tools they need to succeed. Then make them earn greater authority and privilege.” Jeff Haden, bNet
Power to Ponder.
If you are a LeaderManager review the types of power outlined above. Think about how you are applying the types of power then rate yourself on a scale of 1(abusing) to 10 (positively using). What do the ratings tell you? Do you need to change the way you use the various power fields? How do you think your employees would rate you? Do you want to ask them?
Would you say you are an empowering LeaderManager? How comfortable are you in creating an environment for empowerment? What can you do to improve a culture of empowerment within your team or organization?
Click here to find Eight Steps LeaderManagers can take to create a culture of empowerment.
This is another article in the Essential LeaderManager Skills Series