Are You Empowering Your Employees? Or are you Abdicating your Managerial Authority?

by: Dwight Mihalicz


Employees should be empowered to make decisions. This is absolutely true, so why is it number four on our list of “The Top 12 Fallacies That Get In The Way of Organizational Performance?” All too often, managers misinterpret what empowering your employees means and go too far, by actually abdicating their managerial accountability and authority. Empowering your employees to make decisions is not the same thing as leaving them entirely to their own devices with no direction. Making decisions, using judgment, and taking initiative are all positive characteristics, but they can’t contribute to an organization’s success if they take place in a vacuum. Without a shared understanding of common goals, your organization will be pulled in too many different directions.

Vector Science

There are scientific principles we can use to understand this. In physics, if two forces are pulling in the same direction, and each has a force of one, then together they have a force of two. Conversely, if two equal forces are pulling in opposite directions, their combined force is zero. The same is true in organizations. If you have multiple individuals applying force to pull the organization in different directions, the organization starts drifting off course. Typically, this leads to the organization not performing as well as it could. In the worst situations, companies can miss their targets entirely and be figuratively and literally cast adrift in terms of their ability to meet their objectives.

Setting Context

If you refer to our “5 Requirements of Effective Managers,” number three on that list is setting context and boundaries. An effective manager is the conduit between their managers and their direct reports. Starting with the CEO on down, every manager must set context and boundaries for their team. At the most fundamental level, this encompasses basic information like position descriptions — what an employee should do when they come into the office — but context is also more esoteric than that.

Managers should sit down with their teams, and with their direct reports in one-on-one conversations, and outline:

  • their plan,
  • how their plan relates to the strategy of the organization,
  • what they are accountable for delivering,
  • the value-added work they plan to personally deliver,
  • and what they plan to delegate.

Only when managers set context and boundaries can everyone be on the same page, working toward the same goals.

Empowerment is good, but how it’s applied often leaves a lot to be desired. For employees to be empowered to effectively make decisions, they need to understand what they’re accountable for in terms of their manager’s plan and the overall strategy of the organization.

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