Friday, August 18, 2006

What is Empowerment, Really?

I'm in the middle of creating a new class for next week and I've gotten a little bit sidetracked as I think about the topic of empowerment. What does that mean, really?

I remember my days as an employee, and how easy it was for people to avoid taking responsibility by saying "it's not my job" or "I just did what they told me to do" and other pretty lame statements like that. Often what's really going on is employees are choosing to be powerless instead of powerful or empowered.

It reminds me of a story I heard about a Bobby, a fourth-string quarterback for a small college who was also the part-time punter. He was a senior, but had never played in even one game. It was one of the last games of the year and during the second quarter, the first-string quarterback got hurt and was taken out of the game. In the third quarter, the second-string quarterback went down with an injury.

Bobby's team was up 6-3 and it was nearing the end of the game, when, as luck would have it, the third-string quarterback also got hurt and had to come out of the game. Which left the coach with no choice but to put Bobby in.

As the offense prepared to take the field at their own 15 yard line, the coach gave Bobby his instructions. "On the first play I want you to take the ball and run to the right. On the second play I want you to run to the left. On the third play I want you to run right up the middle. And on the fourth play I want you to back up and punt the ball."

Bobby ran on to the field with his instructions. On the first play he ran to the right and gained 17 yards. On the second play he ran to the left and broke enough tackles to gain 26 yards. On the third play he ran right up the middle and to everyone's amazement he broke through everyone except one guy who tackled him on the 6-inch line. The crowd went crazy. On the fourth play Bobby backed up and punted the ball into the parking lot. The crowd was silent.

The coach came storming on to the field and grabbed Bobby by the shoulder pads and yelled "Bobby! What were you thinking when you punted that ball?????"

Bobby replied, "I was thinking that I must have about the dumbest coach in all of football."

Funny story, but how often does something like this happen in our businesses? "I'm just doing what I was told" is a statement we use when we make the choice to be powerless.

This diagram is from the book "The Power Principle" by Blaine Lee, which is the basis for an online course I'm finishing up this week. Click here for a summary of the book. It shows what happens when we choose the powerless route and also what can happen when we choose the powerful route.

Watch for more information about this course and this diagram in a future post.

Perhaps the problem is not so much with empowering people as it is having the empowered people own the empowerment. How accountable are we willing to be for the results we get in our own lives?

The view from the principle-centered power option will offer us opportunities we couldn't even imagine from the powerless vantage point. Go ahead. For the next week choose to be powerful instead of powerless and notice what you notice. If you choose to be powerful and choose coercive power, you'll get a result. If you choose utility power, you'll get another result. And if you choose principle-centered power, you'll get something else. Do a little research on yourself and see which works best. There may be times and places for each choice, but as you're intentional and have an outcome in mind, you'll begin to see which choice gets you the long-term results you intend.

2 Comments:

At 3:51 PM, Blogger starbucker said...

Love the Bobby story Jodee! I've always thought the "I just did what I was told" line was such a cop out - you HAVE to be able to adapt to the situation and "change the play - like a quarterback calls an audible when they get to the line of scrimmage. That's what I expect from my teammates. Like the diagram too - look forward to your future posts on it. All the best.

 
At 11:33 PM, Blogger Jodee said...

Thanks for the feedback! I like the Bobby story, too. I'm sure we all know people like that - but I hope it's mostly from stories like this and not in real life!

 

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