Journey from disempowered to empowered

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Someone asked me recently why don’t “people” just take responsibility? Why don’t more people not only feel empowered by act upon that empowerment? What is holding them back?

My first reaction was to ask about the culture they worked in and specifically what their managers said and did on a daily basis, because it is not as straightforward as just taking responsibility or just being empowered.

Take culture for instance. If you work in a regulated environment, the odds are you won’t have a culture where people are allowed, let alone encouraged, to come up with their own ideas and make decisions as they see fit. In many large organisations too, people are actively discouraged from being empowered. In a call centre for example, whilst staff may be allowed to make small decisions, they are usually scoped out, flow charted and pre-determined.

But assuming you do have a culture that values ideas, creativity, innovation and decisive action, why else might people not take responsibility? I always think that people rise or sink to the level of expectation of their immediate manager. If you have a manager who micromanages you and questions everything you do, you soon tire of coming up with your own ideas. Equally if you are always ridiculed or chastised when your decisions don’t quite work out, you will stop making decisions.

You also need the skills, behaviours and knowledge to be truly empowered. Do you know how to make decisions? Do you know how to gather evidence? Do you know how to sell your ideas? Do you know the impact of your decisions?

Lastly, and this has only recently occurred to me, how mentally tough are you? How resilient? Do you know how to manage your own reactions and emotions when trying out new things? Can you handle your own fears and concerns, especially in the face of other peoples potential negatively? How do you cope when things don’t quite go according to plan? Do you actually have the confidence to just have a go?

The journey from disempowered to empowered is therefore multifaceted. Many people have these skills and attitudes, but if you are on the journey think about some of the key steps you personally might need to take. Also take note of the conditions you are operating in. You would not set sail in a gale, and if you did the journey would be more challenging, you might need more preparation. The same applies if the culture you work in does not support empowerment. You can still take responsibility and be empowered, but you might need more skills and be more resilient to get the same success. You might benefit from creating a personal development plan in order to help you gain the skills required to take these steps.

When you have the right conditions though, the journey is much easier, the key steps are more straightforward, and the rewards are there for both the individual and the organisation.

About the author

Stephanie Morgan is Director of Learning Solutions at Bray Leino Learning.  Stephanie is passionate about helping clients and their people thrive in an ever changing world and works with those responsible for Learning & Development in their organisations to deliver skills change, behaviour change or knowledge change with practical, affordable and effective solutions.

Follow on twitter @stephanieLandD

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