How empowering is your organisation?

What does the word ‘traditional’ conjure up in your mind? Perhaps it channels your thinking to descriptive words – historic, old-fashioned, conventional, regular, standard, normal, or even established. Maybe those words portray solidity, trust and reliability. It may even suggest negatives, stuffy, unwilling to change, risk-averse or too hierarchical. Now, consider the term ‘empowered’. What contrasts have emerged? What are the similarities and differences? How do they manifest themselves?

LQPCRU2ZOPI am fascinated by the concept and practice of empowerment and have been since my university education from 1975-1978. During that time, I embraced empowering young people. Then this meant enabling young people to become more active and engaged in developing services with and for them. I persist as a powerful advocate for this, even now, forty years later.

Then, as my career progressed, and early management writing emerged in the 1980s, I became smitten too with empowering staff. This focused on processes for giving staff greater discretion and resources and distributing control to better serve both customers and the interests of employers.  I will publish my learning from my commitment to empowerment over the last 30 years in my book ‘The Empowering Leader’, sometime in 2017.

It is interesting, considering my experiences of the past thirty years, that comparison is often made between traditional and empowered organisations, as though one is wrong and the other right. This is not the case. Differences exist when taking a focus, for example, on management style and learning culture.

[Tweet "The process of spotting fear and refusing to obey it is
 the source of all true empowerment. - Martha Beck"]

I drafted the table below as part of my research for my Master’s degree thesis in 1996. That year Ken Blanchard and colleagues wrote an acclaimed book on empowerment! My source was work by Frank Navran, again from the USA.  Consider the essential differences by reviewing the table.


Directive leadership

Decisions by management

Workers do as told

Workers refer problems

Workers seek a safe approach

Workers take orders



Managers as coaches

Joint team decision-making

Team members innovate

Team members solve problems

Team members take calculated risks

Team members are self-starters


Communication by directive


Individual accomplishment



Immediate response

Decide alone


Collaborative communication


Team accomplishment



Look at options

Achieve consensus

Remember, the table is now twenty years old. So what do you believe?

Consider your current organisation. Does the term traditional or empowered fit? Do those characteristic differences hold true? Is your organisation still struggling with the notion and practice of empowerment? How do you now view traditional versus empowered organisations? What other perspectives might you offer?

As noted earlier, any discussion of empowerment fascinates me and I would love to hear your views? Let’s talk.

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