The True Nature of Power & Empowerment
Em•pow•er: authorize, allow, sanction to give power or authority to, to enable to permit to commit powers and functions to another as an agent or deputy. Empowerment is a noun, not an adjective.
I have avoided writing an article about power and empowerment because it is a dicey subject these days. However, two experiences led me to think about the difference between real power and delegated power.
When I teach my leadership course, we spend a great deal of time exploring the meaning, utilization and delegation of power. One kind of power is derived from one’s position—positional power as it is known. How one uses such power determines the quality of one’s leadership. Positional power without the knowledge and skills to properly use it will ultimately lead to an unstable and dysfunctional organization. Positional power can be dangerous, but when used wisely it can strengthen the organization and bring great rewards such as loyalty, energy and enrichment.
During my classes, we discuss the “art of delegation” as a means to empower others and free ourselves to do the many things we need to do. However, delegating authority can be deleterious if not understood and managed properly. When we empower others, we are lending our own authority and power. We have the right to take it back. How others view the “empowered” person is a reflection back to the real authority.
So, to make it relatively simple, if you empower me, delegate some of your powers to me; you have the right to take those powers back whenever you wish. I am simply using your power. The relationship of my colleagues to me is now shaped by your power. My relationship to you is shaped by the loan of power and the nature of your leadership.
Jill Levy is the President of the Council of Supervisors and Administrators.
However, if you give me the authority, but do not provide me with the appropriate knowledge, skill acquisition and resources, what good is the power? Maybe it makes me feel powerful with my colleagues and cozy with you, but I live in fear that I will lose that power.
I teach my students to become empowered through the intense study and practice of their craft. We talk about the disaster of feeling powerless and the concomitant fear of authority. Those Principals, Assistant Principals, supervisors and administrators who become the masters at budget, instruction, programming, using data, interpersonal relationships, communicating effectively, and developing an intimate knowledge and respect for legal and contractual matters have real power. They do not need to borrow power—they own it by virtue of their leadership, not only their positions. When the motor doesn’t work, true leaders find a way to soar.#