Thankful for Sources of Power, 5 of 5

Today when others are in the midst of Black Friday, we’re wrapping up our series: exploring the five sources of power by Joann M. Eisenhart, Ph.D., Senior Vice President for Human resources, Facilities and Philanthropy at Northwestern Mutual, who studied the topic in her doctoral dissertation, The Meaning and Use of Power among Female Corporate Leaders.

Key to Success: When you use your candle to light another, the room gets brighter.

Several women interviewed for Eisenhart’s study brought the concept of empowerment into their descriptions of power. While they did not explicitly define power as empowerment, per se, women described feeling most powerful when they gave their power away.

Eisenhart’s own experience takes empowerment beyond the value of what it can create personally and instead, focuses on what it can achieve for the collective good. “No one loses when you give power to others,” she said. “When you use your candle to light another, the whole room gets brighter.”

“When I think about the power of empowering others, I’m reminded of the scene in the movie “The Blind Side” when Michael, an aspiring football star, asks his mother how she’d feel if he chose to ‘flip burgers instead of playing football.’ Her response was simple. ‘It’s your decision. It’s your life.’” Eisenhart used that same line when a member of her team – out of loyalty he said he felt to her – was conflicted about taking a new position. “As leaders, we have to feel comfortable giving people we trust the power to make their own decisions with the understanding that we’ll help and support them if needed.”

Navigate Empowerment

Don’t confuse delegating with empowering. When you delegate, you ask someone to act on your behalf. You assign a task with the expectation that it’s completed in the way you’ve requested. Empowerment, on the other hand, gives someone the authority – the power – to act on their own. You do more than assign a task; you assign responsibility and give the individual the latitude to realize that responsibility in whatever way makes sense to them.

Don’t empower selfishly. Sometimes people in a position of authority will empower others to make decisions simply because it’s convenient for them. As a leader, don’t think about empowering others only to make your life easier. Instead, think about how empowering others can help them grow and learn.

Photo by Goodluz | Shutterstock

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