Powersharing Trumps Empowerment
Empowerment is one of the great buzz words of the last 25 years.
And one of the worst ideas.
What?! Empowerment isn't a good idea? Empowerment is a bad idea?
What on earth are you talking about?
Here's what we're talking about. Empowerment starts with an unhelpful idea, a concept designed not to work with free people: "I'm the king (or queen) and you're not. But I'm a really nice monarch, so I'll trickle a little of my power down to you. But remember who's in charge." Most people see this not as "empowerment" but as "dumping." They see themselves as getting a lot more responsibility and accountability, but no more authority or resources.
Empowerment also doesn't do much for self-starting and initiative. People still have the umbilical cord to their bosses. They're still waiting for direction and asking for permission. They even have spending and other authority that they won't use, because they're not sure what this "empowerment" business is all about and how much freedom they really have. Empowerment is a weak solution to a strong problem.
PowersharingTM starts with a different idea:"We all have power - power to care or not, commit or not, serve or not, focus or not, create or not, improve or not. Some of us have formal authority - positions and titles - but all of us have informal authority." The goal for powersharing leaders and organizations is to maximize the total output of power - to get all of the power of every member into the game.
The difference is not in semantics. "Empowered" organizations are still usually rigid, restrictive, authoritarian places focused on limitations and controls and methods."Powersharing" organizations are flexible, open, engaged places focused on possibilities, freedom, and results.
One of the many problems with a "command/control" environment, even one seasoned with "empowerment," is that people down the line can't do enough micromanaging and nitpicking to ever really get ready for similar efforts being done to them from those up the line. The higher level micro-managers can always do it more, and deeper, and better - after all, they've been doing it longer, and they have all the observable power.
There are many other problems. The wasted effort - watching and worrying, trying to cover every base. The alienation, as the lack of trust and respect take their toll on morale. Many lost opportunities, as people steadfastly refuse to take initiative or risk.
Luman's principle of PowersharingTMasserts that greatness doesn't come from domination. Great leaders use their power to liberate people, rather than to dominate them. They consider their power as a tool, rather than as a goal. They see power as a way to get results. They recognize that there is a lot of power out there, if only it could be accessed. And they very much want to get at all of that power.
We have introduced powersharing principles and practices to many organizations and have seen the dramatic difference it makes. In one 75-year-old Fortune 500 energy company, the change over 18-24 months astonished even the optimists. Almost everyone began contributing their best thinking and ideas and efforts, and took real ownership of the company for the first time.
The result was a move from 4th to 1st quartile, and from last in peer group to first (after 10 years of languishing in the basement). The stock price moved from $42/share to $141/share. There were many things that contributed to this remarkable turnaround, but releasing the troops to perform in a powersharing environment headed up the list. One senior VP called it simply, "the catalyst."
We see this principle closer to home in the Delta Sigma Phi idea of "Brothers Helping Brothers." Instead of waiting for a top-down directive from the formal leaders of the fraternity, brothers are exercising their personal power, stepping out, doing good things for their fraternity and those who belong to it and those outside of it who need their help. They're following the Luman Law of Action: It's never the wrong time to do the right thing.
If this attitude and approach becomes even more widespread, the fraternity will be like the energy company, "first in its peer group." And today's young people, who are drawn more and more to organizations that are doing something of value, will find a very different kind of fraternity having a very different kind of impact. Some fraternity has to be the best - why not Delta Sigma Phi? The principle of powersharing is a way to that goal.
In my book Balance of Power: Fueling, I outlined the principles Employee Power without Relinquishing Your Own and practices of powersharing in detail. Here are a few ways to launch powersharing in your organization:
- Asking - We can ask our people, "What would we have to change around here to get you to pour more of yourself into helping us be great?"
- Providing Information - We can share data that we've been holding close to the vest. We can ask, "What do you need to know from me that would help you add or create more value?"
- Sharing Responsibility - Although it's in our job description, we can let someone who reports to us attend that meeting or respond to that report.
- Granting Access - We can have a round-table discussion that starts with the question, "What would you like to know that would help you improve operations and help me more?"
- Giving Reasons - In most organizations, people hear "It's my way or the highway." Powersharing tells people, "Our way is the highway." Powersharing leaders tell people the "why," so they can use their deeper understanding to color everything else they are doing.
We want to win the hearts and minds of our people, but we don't want to stop there. We want them to do something with their hearts and minds, to use them to open new doors, to put them into action to help their Brothers and others who cross their paths.
Powersharing. We can do it with our direct reports, our team members, and our fraternity. Instead of doing something tothem (empowerment) we can do something with them (powersharing).
Free people want us whispering in their ears, not barking at them over their shoulders.