Empowerment—One Time When It’s Not a Good Idea

Superhero Businessmen New York Flying ConceptI am, by profession, an executive coach. Part of my job is to advocate fiercely for a client’s best self and to champion possibility. Still, I am often asked, “What do you do if you really don’t think the person is capable of accomplishing the goals they’ve set?”

My answer is always, “Who am I to judge?” I’m certainly not going to tell someone they can’t do something or they should aim lower.

When it comes to aiming high with employees, however, you have to be careful. If you are “Captain Empowerment” (one of the characters we looked at in our series on seven ways good managers sometimes get it wrong ) you are so encouraging and have such a high value for fairness that you treat everyone the same way regardless of their competence or skill level. You believe in offering everyone an equal opportunity. You believe anything is possible.

And if you haven’t been disappointed yet, you will be soon.

Make Sure People Are Ready for Empowerment

Just because you see great potential in an employee and desperately want that person to be capable of great growth doesn’t mean they are actually ready, willing, and able to rise to the occasion.

For some employees, all you have to do is set the bar high and they won’t stop until they succeed—in fact, they will blow the goal away! But other employees really just want to come to work, stay cozy in their comfort zone, and do exactly what is expected. These are not the people with whom empowerment will be effective.

For these employees you will want to use the fundamental principles of Situational Leadership® II—carefully assess their competence and confidence on each new task, using past performance and evidence of transferable skills as guidelines. The employee will need to see this evidence for themselves and be gently prodded every step of the way to move forward.

As Ken Blanchard says: “Different strokes for different folks.” Empowerment is not for everyone all the time!

About the author

Madeleine Homan-Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Her posts appear every Saturday as a part of a series for well-intentioned managers.

Previous posts in this series:

Are You TOO Nice? 4 Ways to Be Compassionate and Fair

Delaying Feedback? No News Is Not Always Good News

Providing Clear Direction—You’re Not Being Bossy; You’re Being A Boss

Setting Boundaries: 7 Ways Good Managers Get It Wrong

The Well-Intentioned Manager’s New Year’s Resolution: Have More Fun

The Top Three Mistakes Good Managers Make

Managing Polarities: A Key Skill for the Well-Intentioned Manager

10 thoughts on “Empowerment—One Time When It’s Not a Good Idea

  1. You have raised quite a practical issue in this post. This can be somewhat tricky area to handle when you are a manager and one of your team members enthusiasticaly wants to do a job in which you have high stake, but by your instincts you believe that the person won’t be competent enough to do the job.

  2. Madeleine,
    wow! What a great topic to ponder on. I agree that all employees are different and that they should not all be held to the same standards, (as long as they are completing the job.)How would people go about giving employees different standards in the work place. I feel like there would be a lot of “well she doesn’t have that goal” going on.

  3. Right, I agree that it is tricky. I think the best answer is total transparency about everyone’s tasks and goals, and making sure that everyone pulls the same amount of weight but maybe in different ways. Meaning, all members of a team have the same basic tasks and goals, that they are comfortable with but everyone has different stretch goals that play to their strengths or interests.

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  5. Very good points. Coaching isn’t cheerleading.

    It requires the ability to allow people to expand their belief boundaries, sometimes in small steps.

    Ability without experience can still result in an unsuccessful attempt.

    Its not always a problem with the coaching client. It’s a hard balance, but I tell coaches that if you don’t believe in your client then maybe they need a new coach.

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  8. Reblogged this on and commented:This is a great meohpatr for satisfying our own need to solve problems by making other people happy instead of providing good leadership. And there are SO many monkeys aren’t there not just from the people we manage/lead, but from the outside world, all those little problems that would solve themselves through normal social dynamics if we didn’t meddle. I wonder if another part of this meohpatr holds true that we are distracting ourselves from bigger issues, just as we do when we go to the zoo and entertain ourselves by throwing popcorn at the chimps. It’s not good for the monkeys, and it’s not good for us.A great leadership/management story about taking responsibility for what is not ours. In Aloha Leadership, based on traditional Hawaiian values, feeding the monkeys translates into meddling where our expertise and input are not needed. The result? Well, if we intervene, we have to take responsibility for whatever happens. Sometimes, feeding the monkeys doesn’t solve a problem, but makes a bigger mess, and then, by rights, the leader/manager gets to clean it up. This is a great reminder to think twice before solving other people’s problems.

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