What is Empowerment, and How Can I Become Empowered?

I believe the “empowerment era” in organizations failed to realize its promise because it was based on the assumption that “leaders and managers” could “empower” employees. I contend that it is the employee who, for whatever reason, has “empowered” the “leaders and managers.” If that is the case, then employees can reclaim their power and use it for themselves and their benefit. How can this happen, and what does it take? To answer these questions, we must take a look backward.

In a recent post, I mentioned the fact that of the Four Cs, the first two, Chance and Circumstances, describe our past. There is both bad news and good news about the past. The bad news is that there is nothing we can do about it. No matter how much we wish yesterday would have been different, there is nothing we can do to make it so. Omar Khayyam said it best in his poem, “The Moving Finger Writes; and Having Writ”

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.

That is a poetic way of saying that yesterday will be yesterday forever. It is a part of our history and cannot be changed. The good news is that, no matter how we view our past or our current Circumstances, they in no way limit our prospects for the future. We can still make our tomorrows different from, and hopefully, better than, our yesterdays.

Choice – our past puts us at a “fork in the road,” and we must make a Choice as to which road we take from here. We must be informed by our past but not anchored in nor shackled to it. The only way Choice makes sense is if there are at least two options from which to choose. Without options, Choice and empowerment are but abstract concepts. Although we may have little or no control over our Circumstances, we can control the Choices we make in response to them; and

Consequences – For every Choice, there is at least one Consequence, which includes both the outcomes (what happens) and the lessons (what we learn). It is important to remember that even though some outcomes may be considered to be “negative,” the lessons may be extremely valuable and helpful. In many cases, that will mean the overall Consequences were “positive” or valuable, despite the fact that the outcomes were “negative” or painful. In some cases, as the saying goes, “No pain, no gain.”

The Future – The Choices we make and the Consequences that follow will determine our future. An important connection between these last two Cs is that no matter which option we choose, as long as it remains our Choice, and we are willing to accept responsibility for the Consequences that result, we are empowered. This makes it a do-it-yourself process, and we can choose to be powerful…or now. Empowerment does not happen unless and until we are willing to accept responsibility for Consequences.

A Word of Caution – We often are eager to make our Choice, sometimes without considering the likely Consequences. If it doesn’t turn out well, we often look for somebody or something to blame. This, of course, is the “easy” and often most exciting part of “empowerment.” However, by doing this, we can become victims, either of others’ Choices or of our Circumstances.

The more challenging, and sometimes scary, part of empowerment is accepting responsibility. Exercising our right to choose (Choice) and taking responsibility for what happens as a result (Consequences) is likely to be both the most exciting and the most frightening thing that we will ever do for…or to…ourselves.

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