Too many times there are leaders and managers who are unaware of the difference between delegation and empowerment. When there is a need to delegate they empower and vice versa. As to whether the leader should delegate or empower would require that he or she has a good understanding of what these two words mean and also understand the nature of the situation within the organization to see which is a better option.
The Longman Dictionary defines ‘delegation’ as the process of giving power or work to someone else so that they are responsible for part of what they normally do.
‘Empowerment’ on the other hand is defined as: ‘to give someone more control over their own life or situation.’
When a person is delegated to do something, he/she has to follow a certain set of rules or protocol to do it. This would entail that they have to constantly check with the person who delegated the task to them. There may not be much room for improvisation if the need arises. Thus the staff might not be able to use his/her initiative and come up with enterprising solutions.
Usually in delegation the person concern is part of the problem whereas when you empower a person with a certain task or situation they may become part of the solution instead.
Take for instance, Tom whose boss Jane told him that he is now in charge of the marketing department. Tom is expected to run the department as he thinks fit. Tom is told to do what is necessary to bring up the figures. However, Jane also tells Tom that any new initiative that he wants to implement that he should check with her and get clearance from her first. In this situation what Jane has done is basically delegated a specific task to Tom and Tom does not have much leverage to do what he thinks is necessary without getting clearance from Jane.
However, if Jane were to tell Tom the problems that the marketing department is having and ask Tom to make some recommendations and ask him to take charge of the department and turn it around – this would tantamount to an effective empowerment.
It is not always possible to empower staff as sometimes the nature of the job might be such that the leader has to be in effective control and will be responsible for any chain of events that occurs. However there are many situations when as a leader you can learn to empower rather than delegate. Empowerment is a much more effective method of leading people as the people you are leading have an opportunity to discover their strengths and weaknesses. It also allows you in a leadership position to assess the ability of the people you are leading and to see how you could maximize their individual potential. As Jack Hyles puts it: “Don’t use your people to build a great work; use your work to built great people.” This is in principle epitomizes the concept of empowerment. When you empower the people that you are leading they will be able to take ownership of what they are task to do. They will be more motivated to achieve the targets you set them on. Unlike delegation, when you empower you will not have to be constantly present to ensure that the job gets done.
Here are some things that you should consider before you decide to empower:
Nature of the project
Does the nature of the project allow you to empower? If you are already tasked to oversee a certain project you have to see whether it would be wise to empower. The people who work for you must have the level of competency to work independently in order that you can empower. There are some projects that only you can oversee and in such situation delegating the task might be a better option than empowering. The danger involved in empowering is that you should be prepared to fail and if that should happen to have a contingency plan so that you can bring the project back in line. You can only achieve this if you are one hundred percent clear on your roles and responsibilities in the given project.
Be a Mentor
When you empower a person you have automatically been promoted to the sacred role of a mentor. Unlike a coach, the mentor’s role is different in the sense that you are required to understand the way in which your mentee thinks and functions. You are then required to enhance their ability by showing them how what they are doing can be done better. Being a mentor requires patience, perseverance and faith in the person or persons you are mentoring. You need to show to that you are approachable and someone who is critical without being overbearing.
You have to set measureable guidelines that the people you empowered to follow. The guidelines should give the empowered person a benchmark that he or she knows that needs to be achieved. These guidelines that you set must also allow the people to have a degree of flexibility to do things their own way as long as the ultimate objective is achieved. At the same time it is important too that you remain in the loop to know what is going on so that you could step in to assist your team towards their goal. There are some leaders who empower and wash their hands so to speak of their responsibility. This is not really empowerment but rather pushing of responsibility. It is important that as a leader you remain committed to your roles and responsibilities. Ultimately you have to have the desire to bring the best out in your people.