Empowerment has a few synonyms. A word such as commission has been used interchangeably with empowerment to indicate that someone has been given the “commission” to go forward with a task and is authorized to complete in on behalf of the original party. Some have used the word “license” to indicate the same responsibility or authority.
Breaking the word down to its most basic element, “em” means to put into or onto, while “power” is a word with roots as far back as the 13th century when some individuals had the “pouer.” They were said to be able to do some things that others (peasants, for example) could not do.
For a word such as empowerment, there is only one workable definition: giving legal authority to someone else and making sure that this person has the resources to complete whatever task has been assigned to them.
In many cases, this term is applied to the workplace when a business owner or manager empowers someone on the staff who might otherwise not have the responsibility or authority to proceed. This can be a simple handover of authority, from an owner or other person of authority, or it can be a more formal policy of the organization, with guidelines in writing and legal documents that remove any doubt about what is intended.
Those in the business world feel that there is a crucial second step to empowerment. If the authority to act is handed over to another person and that individual completes the task in a satisfactory manner, the original person of authority must be sure to support what has been done. This is the only sure way to complete the process and call it a success.
In recent years, some in the business field have developed empowerment programs that, when used correctly, can be a successful management style. Empowering someone on the staff of a business or government agency, for instance, not only spreads the work load but also helps others develop the skills they need to succeed. A key benefit cited by teachers of the empowerment method is the developing of strong, knowledgeable associates.
In many countries around the world, government leaders are reluctant to give up any of their authority, though associates who are very close might be free to perform certain duties and make certain decisions. In the commercial world, there are business owners and salaried managers who do not want to hand over authority, though they often feel that giving directions to those on the staff is sufficient for everyday work.
But this latter case is not true empowerment until the person lower on the organization chart feels that he or she is in a position of authority, however temporary. A business owner must be willing not only to take a step back from some of the daily details but must also be willing to support the procedures and results that the other individual is responsible for.
Some who lead seminars insist that empowerment in any setting is a circular process that ultimately leads back to the owner/manager. It’s not a complete process until this owner/manager states that the job is well done.