The Power of Empowerment

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Empowermentauthority or power given to someone else to do something on your behalf. Empowerment is a way to spread and multiply your own influence. You do not lose when you empower others, you can only gain.

Why Empower?

        Because you can’t do it all yourself and you shouldn’t do it all yourself. Even Jesus didn’t try to do everything. He empowered people to work on His behalf! Anonymous – “If you are trying to be everywhere, you are nowhere and if you are trying to do everything, you are doing nothing”. Additionally, you can’t properly achieve succession without empowerment.

Quotes on Empowerment

In his book, Leadership is an Art, Max Dupree – “Succession is one of the key responsibilities of leadership”. In other words, in addition to making sure everything gets done, (though not necessarily being the one to do everything) leaders are also responsible for making sure things keep getting done after they are no longer the one leading. This calls for thinking months, or sometimes years, ahead.

                 In his book Leadership 101, John Maxwell – “People under the influence of an empowering person are like paper in the hands of a talented artist”. You never know the potential of someone unless you first empower them and then you will see what you can do with and through them!

                 Fred Smith (founder of FedEx) – “Who can give permission for another person to succeed? A person in authority. Others can encourage, but permission comes only from an authority figure: a parent, boss, or pastor”. There is a special something that every follower with any kind of greater desire looks to receive from those who are leading them.

It isn’t just nice words, although those are fine from time to time. That special something is permission to succeed…permission to succeed without fear of retribution, criticism, or ridicule.

Given this last quote, we are going to look at two forms of empowerment. 1) The empowerment of permission to do things on your behalf (This is where we’ll spend most of our time) and 2) The empowerment of permission to succeed. You may ask, “If you give someone permission to do something on your behalf, don’t you want them to succeed?” and the answer is, that you’re supposed to want them to succeed. The goal of every leader, whether it be a teacher, Pastor, NCO, Commander, manager, etc. is to teach others what you know and bring them up to where you are in less time than it took for you to get there, and then teach them how to go on beyond you, but you may be surprised at how many people don’t actually think like that.

The Empowerment of Permission to do Things on Your Behalf

Every person who is given a task to do must also be given ample resources to carry out that task. Part of those ample resources is the authority to get the task done.

This means they should be able to go to anyone you’d be able to go to and get anything you’d be able to get that is required to get that particular task accomplished. This does not mean you give them blanket authority to do everything, but only for that which you need them to do. There are two things leaders never give up: 1) Ultimate responsibility and 2) Ultimate authority (By this we mean having the final say…not being a dictator and trying to control everything – don’t misunderstand the word “ultimate”).

How to Properly Empower Someone

It is incumbent upon the delegating leader (meaning it is part of their job) to ensure that the person carrying out the task on that leader’s behalf is given the authority to carry it out. It’s very frustrating to have something expected of you, but not be able to get something done because you’ve not been given the proper authority to do it. Not all authority, just the proper authority. As I said earlier, this means they should be able to go to anyone you’d be able to go to and get anything you’d be able to get that is required to get that particular task accomplished.

Historically, we see an example of proper empowerment happening with the Hebrew writer Nehemiah when he wanted to go back to Israel and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Nehemiah was with the Jews in captivity in the Medo-Persian empire and he asked the king for permission to go back and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem that had been torn down.

Nehemiah 2:7-8  Moreover I said unto the king, If it please the king, let letters be given me to the governors beyond the river, that they may convey me over till I come into Judah;  (8)  And a letter unto Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the palace which appertained to the house, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall enter into. And the king granted me, according to the good hand of my God upon me.

    When Nehemiah went across the river toward Judah, he presented the papers to the governors and to Asaph, the keeper of the king’s forest, and when they saw that Nehemiah had authority from the king, they gave him whatever he needed from them to complete the task at hand. It was as if the king himself was there asking for it. THIS is what empowerment looks like!

If you have to empower someone to get a task done, it can be done much the same way as it was with Nehemiah. Ensure that everyone knows that person is your point of contact (go-to person) for that particular task. This is best done publicly so there is no confusion, there are no mixed messages, everyone hears the same thing, and you only have to do it once (hopefully).

This is mostly done on a need-to-know basis. In other words, this doesn’t mean that every single person in your unit or organization has to know, but those who are part of the process of that particular task must know who the person is and what they are given authority to do. This will make everyone’s life, including yours, far easier and less complicated, it will cut down on strife, and things will flow more smoothly.

If the person needs to be assigned a position, title, or rank in order to have this empowerment then that is something that must be considered because, although titles do not make you a leader, they certainly offer a sense of backing from the higher authority.

*Story of Army Specialist filling in as Commo NCO that no one took seriously until he was assigned the rank of Corporal*

If you’re the person being empowered with a task, it is best not to say “Hey I need someone…”, but learn to use the rank or name of the person who empowered you. “The XO needs…” or “The CEO needs…”. This will greatly increase your chances of getting results! “Hey, that’s just name dropping!” Yes it is!!

Preparing the Way for Empowerment

When you have someone who is about to replace someone else and assume their role or someone who is about to assume a newly created role, it is a good practice to prepare the people they’ll be working with or leading for that change. As a Pastor, I do this when I know I’m getting ready to transfer to another church. I do not just up and leave, but I have found it to be very beneficial to prepare people with that information 15 – 20 days before it happens. (The higher the level the more time may be needed because it affects more people). This is because change is difficult for many people and they need time to process the information, ask questions, get clarification, and prepare for the change.

Another person this helps tremendously is the person who is getting ready to assume that role. Rather than saying, “Alright, this is the new guy. Do what he says!” and he’s just standing there thinking, “Uhhh…Hi”. Because the people have been told ahead of time about the change and they’ve been told what that new person’s role will be, the authority they will have, and what is expected of the people in honoring that incoming person, most of the people will be more willing to fall in and help that person when they arrive or take up the new role.

You won’t always get full cooperation, but most of the people will cooperate, and that’s really all you can ask for. I’ve done this in groups that I’ve led and it works!!  So, do yourself and your people a favor and learn how to empower your leaders both beforehand and during their role. It will make a WORLD of difference!!

The Empowerment of Permission to Succeed

Up until now we’ve discussed empowerment that is beneficial to everyone in your organization or unit. The empowerment of permission to succeed is something that is felt and needed almost exclusively by the person you are empowering!

Again, Fred Smith (founder of FedEx) said – “Who can give permission for another person to succeed? A person in authority. Others can encourage, but permission comes only from an authority figure: a parent, boss, or pastor”. In other words, there is a special something that every lower-level leader with any kind of greater desire looks to receive from those who are empowering them. It isn’t just nice words, though those are fine from time to time.

That special something is permission to succeed…permission to succeed without fear of retribution, criticism, or ridicule.

We say “without fear of retribution, criticism, or ridicule” because if you empower someone to do something, you cannot always micromanage every little thing about that task. If you’re dealing with explosives, and things have to be done in just the right order…then micromanage away! But, if it’s simply a matter of preference, let the person you’ve empowered try new things and figure something out.

They may make some mistakes along the way, but may also eventually surprise you with something they find that may work as well or even better than what you’ve been doing or would have done! Everyone brings their own perspective and insights to the task.

What they do not need is the sinking feeling that if they don’t do something exactly as you would, that they’re going to hear about it and be made to feel ashamed. This is the quickest way to kill creativity, momentum, and growth in any group. What do they need to hear, or at least feel? They need to feel safe! That’s all…just safe!

They need to feel that it’s safe to try, even if they fail, because they’ll be allowed to get back up and try again! They need to feel that it’s okay that they didn’t get it right the first time, but that if they keep trying, you have faith that they’ll figure it out and that you are glad to see them trying!

The empowerment of permission to succeed says “If you keep at it, I know you’ll eventually figure it out and you’ll become successful at it. Your success doesn’t have to look like other people’s success. I trust you with it and I believe you’ll do a great job as long as you keep learning and keep trying!”

This can only come from the empowering authority. A friend and colleague can say the exact same words and it’ll be encouraging, but it’s not empowering. As Mr. Smith said, “Who can give permission for another person to succeed? A person in authority. Others can encourage, but permission comes only from an authority figure…”

Published by Pastor Fulmer

Pastor Fulmer is currently the Pastor of New Testament Christian Church in Pyeongtaek, South Korea (near Camp Humphreys). His life's mission is to lead men and women to THEIR next level of living and into a closer relationship with Christ through Evangelism, Education, and Example.

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