I have often said that the essence of leadership or management in organizations is helping make your network smarter, more resilient, and able to make better decisions. It is not telling people what to do, or managing how they get things done, especially in an age where more work is unique and non-routine. Those doing the work are often the only ones who really understand the context.
John Wenger says that empowerment is a term that we should avoid when it comes to management of organizations. He says it is better to focus on enablement.
“Empower seems limited to the granting of authority, which can be rescinded when it suits the holder of power, while enable seems much broader to me. It encompasses what someone does to ensure that others have the requisite capabilities and skills to carry out a job well, to take up their own power (potency) and when necessary, showing them the door to gaining new capabilities and skills. It seems to be more akin to equipping and supplying than conferring power. Once equipped, the enabler can then get out of the way and let the person access their own power to get on with it.” —John Wenger
John suggests that people in positions of power should focus on “getting out of the way behaviours”.
- Monitoring boundaries: clarifying limits of authority and accountability so that people know what they are responsible for and what they are not.
- Monitoring and stewarding team dynamics: shining a light on relationships and networks and encouraging their connection and interaction.
- Showing trust and belief: behaving in ways that let people know you trust them to get on with it.
- Being available: for advice, guidance, information, as a sounding board.
- Communicating respectfully: communication should be open and mutual.
- Coaching people to learn from mistakes: when someone makes a mistake, an enabling manager will work with the person to work out what went wrong, why it went wrong and ensure that they have the capability and awareness to prevent a repeat.
- Encouraging problem-solving: letting people bring their creativity to work.