Empowerment Revisited

By Shae Hadden

Further musings on empowerment today…

When I worked for a public service agency, I used to think that I was responsible for certain results, but I never felt ‘empowered’. I equated being empowered with having the boundaries removed that seemed to stand between me and getting the job done. I remember one instance in which there was an immediate and urgent need to provide a client with resources (which would impact a budget over which I had no authority). Without the ‘power’ to commit to this expenditure, I felt helpless, stuck within a system that had imposed very clear limits to my authority.

Actually, this was an opportunity in disguise.

At first, after feeling frustrated and considering giving up and telling the client I couldn’t do anything because “that’s the way the system works”, I chose to declare myself empowered in the domains of communication and customer service. I looked beyond the preset channels of authority, precedents and rules—beyond the personalities and the procedures. The breakdown warranted a conversation with someone to assist me in accomplishing my commitment to the client. I enrolled an associate in getting me access to a department head in Ottawa, who, within a very brief phone call, was able to approve my request for funds. I knew I had the competency to do what needed to be done: all that needed clarifying was my relationship to the circumstances and the context in which I was working.

My actions did not disempower the manager who was accountable for the budget that was impacted. They thanked me for dealing with the breakdown, and commented on the fact that, if everyone in the organization were as empowered as I had declared myself to be, many of the cultural problems that persisted would vanish, people would deliver on their promises and fulfill requests.