Empowerment humbug.

In "Mittelmaß und Wahnsinn" (Mediocrity and Madness), I also touch upon the concept of "empowerment". I argue that -- at least in workplace management -- there is reason to being wary about "empowerment". All too frequent, it is patronising in disguise. Humbug.

Fake empowerment

More often than not, we have one person "empowering" another one, the "empowerer" and the "empowered". The notion is clear: "I empower you ... until it suits me otherwise". Which is when I am withdrawing my empowerment. Add to this the usual ways of assessing performance and developing people, the paradox becomes even more visible. "I develop you, so better behave ...". More often than not, the allegedly "empowered" one is nothing but the person in charge if something goes wrong. With the risk of being "dis-impowered" in case this happens. Which it probably will, if the matter at hand is worth something. And don't forget about corporate policies and committees! You might be empowered to run a multi-million Dollar project. But in case you feel the need of inviting someone (eg, your team) for dinner you surely need to get the approval by some line manager. You might be the one allegedly in charge but have to run every step by a series of committees suffocating any initiative.

Empowerment meets agile ... or kills it

Well, actually the term "empowerment" has a different meaning. It originates from community psychology and social work. Wikipedia defines it: "The term empowerment refers to measures designed to increase the degree of autonomy and self-determination in people and in communities in order to enable them to represent their interests in a responsible and self-determined way, acting on their own authority. It is the process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one's life and claiming one's rights. Empowerment as action refers both to the process of self-empowerment and to professional support of people, which enables them to overcome their sense of powerlessness and lack of influence, and to recognize and use their resources. To do work with power."

Not much to add to this. And easy to see that this would be where empowerment meets agile ... or, reversely, where misguided empowerment kills agile. Well, there is hardly anything new below the sun. Thus, if you're interested in a bit more de-mystification, you might want to read "6 Myths About Empowering Employees" by David Marquet on HBR.

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