If a manager tells you they “empower you”…RUN.


I worked with a CEO once who would take out his car keys in an all hands and either jingle them in the air or throw them on the table in a dramatic flair and tell people “here, I give you the keys. You are empowered to do what you think is right.” I wished, at one point, I would have grabbed his keys and promptly drove his nice BMW X5 to my house for the night. It would have been a reality check for him AND everyone because not only was it a bad metaphor, it was insincere. He would have been pissed.

He would have been equally pissed if any of the team had actually made decisions that were not cleared through him. Something I learned after I deleted the archaic dress code (it had the word “hosiery” in it for goodness sake!) from the employee handbook and replaced it with three sentences, the core of which was “Please dress appropriately.” (This was before GE finally caught up to the 21st century.) He was pissed…and this was shortly after he threw his keys on the table.

There are all sorts of subtle messages in the business world that prevent individual’s from thriving and create ironic assumptions. Empowerment is one of them. Not that people assume they are empowered but quite the opposite. People assume someone else can “empower” you. This assumption is false. By definition, as an individual, you are empowered. Managers and companies can only limit or constrain your empowerment.

When someone says they “empower you” it is a subtle reminder that they are in a position of power and you are not. They have the control to “empower” you or to take it away. Anyone who feels the need to tell you that, is more about control than genuine “empowerment.”

A real leader will never tell you that you are “empowered.” Instead, they will tell you that you are TRUSTED.

Dave NeedhamComment