I was speaking with a friend today about how we sometimes feel
‘disempowered’ in certain situations where people repeat their patterns
of the past and where we have no ‘accountability’ for the outcome. I
realized as we were talking that we generally look at ‘being empowered’
as a solution in our careers and personal lives—as the pathway to the
promised land that will deliver us from whatever circumstances are
challenging us in the moment. When we see teams of people creating new
possibilities and managing themselves to solve their own problems,
we’re seeing people who have empowered themselves moving in action.
We often use a lack of empowerment
as a sweeping justification for all kinds of organizational and
relationship problems. The pursuit of empowerment can become an
impediment to change—effectively reinforcing or aggravating a person’s
or a company’s existing predisposition to the status quo. When people
start thinking empowerment as an entitlement,
they complain about autonomy, about being left alone and about being
responsible for particular outcomes without the ‘authority to act’.
Although they say they need or want power, they often continue to
behave as if they are powerless. If others in the organization buy into
this view of entitlement, they start accepting whatever excuses are
offered for not delivering on commitments—a shared conversation that
effectively disempowers people and creates a habit of using excuses to
‘explain away’ their behavior.
To be empowered is to be
responsible for our commitments. It means having the competency or
capacity to take actions or have others take actions that are
appropriate to fulfilling whatever we are intending to accomplish. This
doesn’t mean we might be able to do everything personally, or even that
we need to know everything or have all the resources to do the job.
Empowerment is all about the relationship between us and our
If we believe we aren’t empowered, we’re
declaring that our circumstances are more powerful than we are—and that
our commitments and any actions we might take will be insufficient.
can only empower ourselves. To do so, we must take a stand for being
empowered, and then take action within that context—regardless of our