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Many in business seem to believe that amassing and hoarding power is the objective of the game, but that misses the point. The essence of power is not the power itself, but the license it grants the holder to make a difference and influence the outcome of any situation.
Power should never be seen as the goal, but as a tool that can be used to achieve goals. Effective leaders do not stockpile power so they can do great things; instead they share their power so they can do great things. Successful leaders recognize that when power is consolidated in the hands of the few, it excludes the many from feeling empowered to make a difference. And when that happens, the incentive to participate in achieving the objective is destroyed.
More often than not, the politics of the typical business organization is driven by an addiction to power and the personal success it is perceived to bestow. This is not bad in and of itself, but a problem emerges when those who do acquire power exhibit little awareness of the real power of power, which is the ability to empower others. It is as if power for power's sake is the only goal.
When the culture of a company revolves around the concentric acquisition of power, those down the line begin to feel powerless to make a difference and influence the success of the organization. As this happens they withdraw, lose interest and lack the motivation to make the extra effort for the benefit of the organization.
What makes this cycle of power so incongruous is that most of those who have power in the business world know that the husbanding of power among the few is counterproductive to the overall success of the organization. One of the most praised techniques of successful management is "employee empowerment." Virtually everyone in a business leadership role professes to recognize the value of employee empowerment, yet it is almost always more talk than action.
In survey after survey, a large majority of employees who express dissatisfaction with their job cite lack of respect for their efforts and the absence of an opportunity to offer input that could make a difference. In short, they feel powerless and that's a bad feeling to have in an organization that puts a premium on power.
If empowering employees is recognized as the right thing to do, why don't more managers do it? The chief reason managers fail to empower others is the mistaken belief that giving up their hard-earned power to others will, in some way, make them less powerful. They don't understand the difference between sharing power and relinquishing it.
When employees are empowered by the leader, what is transferred is not the authority of the leader, but the real essence of the feeling of power: that magical recognition that one is respected for one's talent and ability to make a difference.
The power of position is always retained, but when the leader is willing to share the benefits of that power with their followers, it creates a feeling of empowerment. It is this feeling that builds loyalty to the leader, encourages participation and inspires the follower to do the best they can — not only for themselves, but also for the leader and the company. It's not that everyone wants the power and responsibility to make the decisions — most don't — but what they do want is the feeling that they are important to the leader and the company. And they have that feeling when they feel empowered to make a difference.
All it takes is the right attitude and a few simple steps for a leader to empower their followers.
• It starts with respect. When managers exhibit the same level of respect for the powerless as they do for the powerful, the powerless become empowered. Respect is empowering and it comes down to simply acknowledging and recognizing the value and contribution of the employee.
• Participation is a key element of empowerment. How can workers feel empowered if they are excluded from the process? When employees' opinions, thoughts and ideas are sought out, it signals they are valued and this is highly empowering. It does not mean the employees make the decisions, but when the leader shares power by including them in the process of making the decision, they are empowered.
• The ultimate feeling of empowerment for employees is when they are recognized for their contribution and allowed to share in the value they helped to create. When a corporate culture is based on shared effort, recognition and equitable rewards, the more those involved will feel empowered. And when empowered, they will be inspired to participate.
It all comes down to this simple maxim: Power is a powerful tool to success when a leader uses it to empower others.