Leaders to Leader

Lessons from the Great American Leaders & How They Apply Now

Posts Tagged ‘participation

Four Major Barriers to Effective Empowerment

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The concept of empowerment demands the full participation and interaction of all levels of an organization. Problems arise when there is a lack of commitment by leaders to actually implement empowerment strategies throughout the organization. They mouth the words of empowerment but fail to back them up with real actions to remove barriers for all employees.

Leaders have a powerful position to play in the transition and development of a company’s ability to successfully implement employee empowerment throughout the entire organization. Leaders understand that the implementation process of empowerment is concerned with more than just the mechanical aspects accompanying the transitions and change.

It is important to understand that many barriers to real empowerment exist because of the pitfalls many organizations stumble into. Most of them materialize because of a failure to focus on how to improve the more indirect value characteristics of the organization. These characteristics involve the issues of trust, responsibility, harmony, participation and cooperative group efforts. Often the responsibility lies with the leader who fears a change in the status quo and an erosion of his or her power and authority.

One of the key phrases that defines empowerment is “participative management.” Research has demonstrated a positive link between employee participation and work satisfaction and between motivation and performance. These links are hindered from occurring when leaders fall short in recognizing the potential of their employees and fail to see how much power these individuals potentially carry to solve major problems and issues. The four major pitfalls leaders encounter as they attempt to transition into empowering their employees become manifested when they begin to mix the messages of empowerment or fail to link actions to ideas. These include the following beliefs:

“Empowerment is just a term used to produce the same actions to get similar results.”

Decisions are being continually made at the top in spite of the organization saying it is empowering its employees. This mixed message supported by accompanying actions does much to undermine an employee’s willingness to participate, improve performance, and accept additional responsibility.

A traditional labor division still exists even though participation is actively sought. This is generally caused by leaders failing to delegate meaningful assignments, tasks and projects able to have a real impact on building confidence and worker satisfaction.

Many leaders believe that empowerment can still be accomplished through delegating, but that there must be some form of direct or indirect control when it comes to overseeing what is being delegated.

“We are all in this together…up to a point.”

Many leaders fail to realize one important fact: if employees directly affected by proposed changes are not involved in the decision to change, they will fight its progress.

Employees should not be told what to do, but be given the opportunity to learn where, when and what to do in specific situations. Many leaders have their own fears to overcome, generally believing that empowerment will lead to them relinquishing authority and ultimately losing their jobs. Most resistance to empowerment comes from middle management. Leaders fail to see how these fears can be reduced or eliminated by setting, measuring and evaluating performance together with their organizational work units.

Organizations often fail at the top levels when desiring to implement empowerment. They thwart its success because they are shortsighted in not training their own leaders and supervisors to understand empowerment concepts, the value these ideas have for the company as a whole, or how to personally cope with change.

Organizations do not recognize the importance of the primary role of leadership in empowerment: to support and stimulate their employees to cooperate in overcoming cross-functional barriers and eliminating fear within their own work units.

“Empowerment begins at the top and works downward.”

Many organizations feel it is better to start empowerment changes at the top and then work down to employees, even though this limits some aspects of empowerment. Upper and even middle management often argue that employees are unable to get the whole picture of the organization and are unqualified to make most important decisions, especially those that impact profitability.

Organizations often forget or fail to recognize another important aspect of empowerment: delegating responsibility to the lowest levels of the organization. Leaders need to emphasize that the decision making process should be highly decentralized, and employees in work-designed groups or teams should be responsible for their part in work processes.

Empowerment is seen as a byproduct. Many organizations look at employee empowerment as a result of an organization’s strategy and technology that focuses on how to improve costs, speed and efficiency, not as the essential ingredient to make it happen. They fail to look upon empowerment as a direct strategy to produce higher quality, productivity and efficiency.

“Employees are not the only top priority… many others are equally as important.”

Organizations often fail to realize that without productive employees they are nothing and can do nothing. They sometimes become shortsighted and fail to realize that empowerment works best when employees need the organization as much as the organization needs them.

Organizations often feel an employee’s real need lies in an increased paycheck or better benefit package. There is a general belief that employees only wish to work for monetary compensation. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and their demands grow accordingly because employees resort to this focus when they are not allowed to play an integral part in the organization.

Leaders forget to follow the golden rule: they must treat their employees the way they would want their bosses to treat them. Leaders must define what their actions and words mean to employees so that they realize concepts of fairness, respect, and consideration are an important element in the overall work culture and climate.

Excerpt: Empowerment:Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, 2011) $19.95 USD

If you would like to learn more about empowerment techniques, refer to Empowerment:Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series. This training skill-pack features eight key interrelated concepts, each with their own discussion points and training activity. It is ideal as an informal training tool for coaching or personal development. It can also be used as a handbook and guide for group training discussions. Click here to learn more.

Copyright © 2011 Timothy F. Bednarz All Rights Reserved

Written by Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D.

August 9, 2011 at 9:57 am

Use These Seven Strategies to Respond to Change

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It is difficult to predict leaders’ responses to change, as they must continually be on guard for unpredictable occurrences and forces, and in some cases immediately respond to a series of unknown and unanticipated events and circumstances. The only certainty is that change will occur, and leaders must be at the forefront of the process regardless of circumstances and apprehensions.

Change undoubtedly poses a challenge to every leader. This is because it can be anticipated only to the degree that it is predictable. Long-term changes and trends can be generally anticipated, but these changes are often complicated by numerous factors and elements continually altering and transforming themselves at varying rates of speed.

The concept of change also demands that leaders embrace stability and instability within the organization as it transforms itself. Several strategies that leaders need to employ during periods of change include:

Being Visible

The very nature of leadership demands that leaders be actively involved in their organizational unit. Leadership does not emanate from behind a desk or within an office. Leaders must be active and visible in the front lines of their business. Only when leaders are out and about among their employees can they see and feel the pace of progress, and witness firsthand the problems their employees are encountering.


Paces of change and organizational transformations demand that countless ideas be constantly generated and experimented with at all levels. Undoubtedly, some ideas will fail and some will succeed. The only way leaders can sort out the winners from the losers is by constantly applying new ideas and concepts on the line to test for feasibility and adaptability to their organization.


As leaders become increasingly visible, it is important that they simultaneously begin to develop listening forums where everyone within their organizational unit is sharing new ideas, celebrating minor successes and learning from small failures. This increases the synergy between employees, builds and solidifies team bonds, and enhances overall organizational cohesiveness.

Appreciating Failure

As aforementioned, an organization’s response to change as it transforms itself implies countless new ideas and concepts are being experimented with on a regular basis. Leaders know that constant experimentation means that they must test concepts, ideas and strategies rapidly—fail or succeed fast—and adjust quickly.

Active leaders must immediately discard bad ideas and learn from their failures. However, no idea can be deemed good or bad unless it has been adequately tested. The key is to learn from the failures and quickly move on to the next idea, building knowledge and expertise from a continual string of ineffective results, failures and shortcomings.

Taking Action

Leaders in the fast pace of change must be proactive rather than reactive. They cannot let the organizational bureaucracy interfere with the progress of their organizational unit. At times they must actively work against this bureaucracy when it regulates or inhibits the testing and experimentation of new ideas and concepts.

Effective leaders do not only involve their frontline employees in concept, idea and method experimentation, they encourage the participation of multi-functional teams as well, and work to get them fully involved in the process.

Learning from Customers

Leaders have learned that the external influence of the customer is a stabilizing factor in the midst of change. Successful leaders interact with their customers, and encourage employees at all levels to do the same. This can be accomplished through scheduled customer visits to the organization for discussions, observations and feedback, and by sending representatives out to the customer’s business. Once there, their job is to objectively observe exactly how specific products and services are being used and applied. They also interpret what problems occur and why, as well as each one’s impact on various time factors.

This allows leaders to cross-pollinate ideas and concepts throughout the organization so that all involved have mutual goals and objectives, increasing the overall quality of the product and its value to the customer.

Additionally, employee exposure to their customers makes daily tasks and assignments more tangible. Employees are able to see how the product they produce is used. This increases empowerment and overall responsibility toward the customer.

Making It Fun

The concept of change and accompanying process of organizational transformation are stressful. Most leaders have learned that they can ease stress by making certain elements of the process “fun.” This is not to say that leaders create a jovial and joking atmosphere, but that there is pleasure and enjoyment in accomplishing something together as a team and sharing interesting failures and mistakes in a non-critical atmosphere. It means keeping things light, celebrating the little successes, and using them to build on others to the accomplishment of mutual goals and objectives.

Change will throw many curves at an organization. It takes large doses of flexibility and participation to adapt to these trials. It also helps if leaders and employees lighten up at times where stress is at its highest, which helps to reduce the urge to take things far too seriously.

Excerpt: Facilitating Change – Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, 2011) $ 17.95 USD

If you would like to learn more about techniques to facilitate change, refer to Facilitating Change – Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series. This training skill-pack features eight key interrelated concepts, each with their own discussion points and training activity. It is ideal as an informal training tool for coaching or personal development. It can also be used as a handbook and guide for group training discussions. Click here to learn more.

Written by Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D.

July 28, 2011 at 11:54 am

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