The Truth On Empowerment
1. Empowerment has been criticized since it leaves no one in particular accountable.
The goal of empowerment is to provide power to the individual. Each individual is trusted to make his or her own decisions regarding his or her life and work. In this way the individual is also provided with the opportunity to take responsibility for his or her own situation in life and work.
Empowerment of course has many levels. Politically, it means that each group of individuals within a society is given the same power and rights as all others. All sectors of society are for example allowed to vote, voice their opinions and follow political channels for change without the need to fear unreasonable persecution or other repercussions. In work, empowerment means that all individuals are allowed to apply for jobs where the likelihood of being accepted for employment depends on nothing except their qualification level. In life, empowerment means that each individual has the same rights to do the same things in society, i.e. enter public places, make use of public transportation, and the like.
In terms of accountability, I do not believe that the criticism leveled against empowerment is valid. Instead of only a single entity being accountable for the actions within the whole of society, every individual is now required to take his or her own responsibility for his or her own life and actions. Individual accountability means that responsibility for individual actions lies with the individual. Collective actions are accounted for by groups of people.
In this way accountability cannot be required only of leaders or other empowered individuals. Empowerment has the advantage of placing accountability at the location of every person taking certain actions. Indeed, this results in a more responsible society where fewer crimes are committed. Individuals know that certain actions will lead to certain consequences, and this knowledge leads to the accountability necessary to ensure a stable society (Dewettinck, Singh, & Buyens, 2003).
2. “We practice empowerment because we don’t expect our employees to leave their brains at the door.”
In the current workplace situation, a business is held to function much better when individuals are given the opportunity to develop to their full potential. Workplace empowerment then means not only empowering individuals to enter any workplace for which they adequately qualify, but also that they function as intelligent beings within this situation. Employees are given the power to think critically about the tasks they are assigned, in order to do these tasks to the best of their ability (Dewettinck, Singh, & Buyens, 2003).
Employees are therefore expected to think for themselves. This allows for much more creativity within the company. Leaders who empower their employees have the advantage of a large amount of creative energy to provide solutions to difficult problems. Sharing the power in this way therefore means that the collective company ultimately possesses greater collective power in the business world.
Furthermore empowerment within a company means that individuals are recognized for their ability to think individually and creatively. A possible drawback of this approach is that all employees may not be ready to use their individual thinking skills in order to provide the company with creative energy. Indeed, empowering individuals who are not ready could mean disaster for such a company, as incorrect, unmonitored decisions and actions could be very detrimental. It is therefore probably a good idea to first monitor all decisions for which an individual is newly empowered (St. John’s University, 1993).
Basically, empowerment within a company can greatly enhance its decision-making and creative power. Such empowerment has to be handled with great care, however. Individuals need to be monitored for their readiness to take responsibility within the company.
3. Leadership Style(s)that are related to the statement “Empowerment has been criticized since it leaves no one in particular accountable”.
There are mainly two leadership styles that may criticize empowerment for its apparent lack of particular accountability. These include the directing and coaching style of leadership. With all three of these, the ultimate responsibility lies directly with the leader, although the level of employee responsibility varies (Dewettinck, Singh, & Buyens, 2003).
Directing leadership entails a high level of directing and low supportive behavior. All employee actions are directly supervised by the leader, and the leader also takes responsibility for all the decisions. Low supportive behavior then means that the leader determines the tasks necessary, and seldom listens to input from employees. Employees are expected to do what they are told without critically examining decisions. Accountability is then directly with the leader, as employees are in a state of receiving orders and carrying them out without question.
In coaching leadership, there is a high level of both directive and supportive behavior. As in the directing style, the leader makes all decisions. However, this process contrasts with the first style, as employees are more actively included: decisions are explained, while the work is continually monitored. Feedback is also given on a continual basis, and employees are expected to learn from their work. All final decisions and responsibilities are with the leader, although employees are allowed to provide input (Chimaera Consulting Ltd, 1999).
The argument against empowerment here is then that too many decision makers within a company could defeat the purpose of a company to act as a single entity. There would be no overall leadership paradigm, where a single entity could take the responsibility for any problems. Empowerment in this way would then undermine the collective purpose of the company to conduct their business in a single-minded and focused manner.
4. Leadership Style(s) that are related to the statement “WE practice empowerment since we don’t expect our employees to leave their brains at the door”.
Leadership styles that support the above statements include the delegating and supporting leadership styles. The paradigm behind these styles of leadership is, as mentioned above, to make full use of the inherent and creative brainpower of each employee for the benefit of the company. While the overall directive and responsibility for unity still lies with top management, leadership is seen to a great degree as a partnership rather than an unequal power relationship.
The delegating style of leadership entails low directive as well as low supportive behavior. The leader provides each employee with tasks. The employee is then expected to carry these out individually, with responsibility, and with the minimum supervision. In this style, the ability of individuals to make critical decisions and carry out tasks unsupervised is recognized. Individuals are therefore empowered to make most decisions, because this leadership style recognizes their ability to do so. Low support means that monitoring is absent to a great degree, while employees are expected to implement their own thinking skills without necessarily first consulting the leader. Problems could arise when incorrect decisions are implemented. Nevertheless, the responsibility for such results then lie with the individual who made the decision, and not with the leader (Chimaera Consulting Ltd., 1999).
The supporting leadership style entails low directive, but high supporting behavior. This means that employees are still empowered to make their own, self-reliant decisions, but that they are encouraged and given feedback while doing so. The risk of faulty decision making is lower, as supporting leaders take a more active role than delegating ones. Other behaviors included in this paradigm are collaborating and appreciating actions. Individuals are therefore empowered and recognized for their brain power, but also monitored and led more actively.
5. Situational Leadership and Empowerment.
Situational leadership is seen as the new leadership style in order to optimize business practice and revenue. Not only employees, but also leaders, are empowered under this paradigm. Situational leadership means to incorporated whichever leadership style is most appropriate for particular situations. This is done by monitoring the development level of employees. Situational leaders recognized that not all employees may be ready at all times to receive full empowerment, and leadership styles are adjusted accordingly. It is furthermore recognized that development may cease or even regress, and once again leadership flexibility is of the highest importance (Chimaera Consulting Ltd., 1999).
In terms of empowerment, situational leadership does not see this as the most important element of business. Although empowerment does play a powerful role, leaders recognize the changing nature of humanity, and adjust their leadership style accordingly. Employee development therefore plays a more important role than empowerment itself. Empowerment is only bestowed when employees are ready for it. Furthermore, the level of empowerment is carefully monitored in order to fit the development of the employee involved. If an employee is for example very developed in his or her assigned job situation, the delegation leadership style would be used. For employees just entering their profession on the other hand, a leadership style with a low empowerment level such as directive leadership would be used.
Situational leadership therefore incorporates all of the leadership styles as it suits each particular situation. Flexibility rather than empowerment is the most important element in situational leadership. This requires continual monitoring of each employee situation within the company. Through situational leadership then, each employee is monitored for the maximum benefit of both employees and management.