Seven Deadly Sins of Empowerment

Empowered organisations are very productive. Business units and the individuals within them are given clarity of purpose and the authority and capability to achieve that purpose – so that they may act independently to implement their part of the strategy, to achieve the vision of the organisation.

However, not all organisations that have the stated intention to empower individuals and their business units succeed in doing so. Their leaders commit one or more of the seven sins of empowerment.


Leaders who do not agree a clear goal when empowering others and link that goal to the vision of the organisation are often disappointed when the business unit or individual set their own goal which does not reflect the view of the leader. Leaders who set multiple goals are similarly disappointed when the business unit or individual pick a different goal than the leader as the prime goal to achieve when faced with choices.


Set and forget is not an option usually associated with the human psychology. Neglecting to follow up at set times or milestones to check in with the individual or business unit is a common failure which allows drifting in timing, objectives and actions to develop.


Leaders who treat all individuals and business units the same when it comes to delegating outcomes to be achieved are setting themselves and the individual or business unit up for failure. Different individuals have different personalities and thinking styles and experience and hence need different management approaches.

A vastly experienced individual needs an agreed goal, clarity on their level of authority to act, resources they can access and the time frame in which they have to deliver against the goal. They need follow up perhaps one a month or so or by exception when they need something outside their agreed authority level or additional resources.

An inexperienced individual may need, in addition to that which an experienced person needs, help thinking through the actions to take to achieve the goal. An inexperienced person may need, at time, daily follow up.

A competent business unit with a track record of success may similarly need little intervention beyond scoping, authority levels, resource commitment and timing. A business unit which has perhaps been recently formed and is not yet fully competent needs more frequent consultation.


Seeking to empower an individual or business unit without ensuring that they have capability and capacity to complete the thinking and tasks required to achieve the agreed goal is, once again, setting people up for failure.

It is insufficient to give people the clear goal and the authority to take action. They must be given the opportunity to build or buy the skills and knowledge required to achieve the agreed goal and the experiences or coaching required to model the behaviour which will improve the probability of achieving the goal.

They must also be given the ability to acquire the capacity in man-hours necessary for success. Simply telling people to achieve the agreed goal on top of existing commitments, particularly when resources are already stretched, increases the risk that not only will the goal not be achieved but that other day-to-day business processes may suffer.


Whilst very inexperienced individuals may need more frequent follow up, they do not need the work to be planned out for them. To do so is not to empower but to direct closely, the antithesis of empowerment. Experienced people find micromanagement disempowering and demeaning.


Empowerment does not equal the assumption that individuals or business units will progress smoothly towards the agreed goal without any intervention.

Whilst micromanagement is the antithesis of empowerment, it is necessary when creating an empowered organisation to measure progress towards the agreed goal and milestones. This may involve the design and development of key performance indicators of key processes which are expected to exhibit changes in quantity or quality as the goal is achieved. It may also involve the design and development of one-off targets and thresholds.


It is important to agree stretch goals for individuals and business units as part of everyday management. Creating an empowered organisation however, is not an invitation to abdicate responsibility for setting prudent achievable stretch targets. Setting stretch targets obviously beyond the capacity and capability of the individual or business unit is a recipe for failure.


On the topic of empowerment, here’s some food for thought – in the form of a Thoughts on the Line:

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