Even though empowerment is both desirable and necessary for effective leadership and organizational health, it is often not employed by some leaders. The barriers to empowerment must therefore be overcome and removed.
Roger Gill asserts that “barriers to empowerment include bureaucracy, risk aversion, the need for control over others, fear of a loss of control, a lack of trust, the skill and time required to do it, and resistance to being empowered among those receiving it due to their distrust of the motives and consequences.” This list, though impressive, is by no means, exhaustive. Some might add things like lack of respect, lack of cultural sensitivity, and more.
Among the empowerment “barrier-busters” are the following:
- A clear organizational vision: what must our entity become?
- A clear organizational purpose: for what good do we exist in the world?
- A clear organizational strategy: how shall we become what we dream?
Each of these is most effective when determined with significant, genuine, honest, and non-patronizing input from those for whom empowerment is being facilitated. Additionally, opportunities for educational, skill and personal development go a long way to empowering persons. After all, “the bureaucratic organization is the antithesis of the learning organization.” Learning and training promote empowerment. Organizations’ people — but especially their leaders — should be provided ample opportunities for continuing education.
Empowerment is tied to the hip with partners’ satisfaction that they can be engaged, joyfully, purposefully and skillfully, in fulfilling the vision and purpose of an enterprise, organization, or community. That they previously bought into that vision and purpose already provides a platform for their empowerment. This would further inspire creativity and innovation, and even – at optimum levels — healthy autonomy, once leaders are willing to take the risk to allow this!
In order to secure empowerment for all, vision and purpose should not merely be in place; instead, vision and purpose should be communicated regularly and clearly to all who would be empowered, relating, explaining and interpreting them in relation to the values shared by all the leaders, partners, and participants in the organization.
For more on Empowerment, see Friday, Michael P. And Lead Us Not Into Dysfunction. Eugene OR: Wipf and Stock, 2018, p.76-80.
 Gill, Theory and Practice, 2nd ed. London: Sage, p.231.
 Ibid., 247.
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Michael Friday is an organizational leadership specialist, working through Transition Ministries, American Baptist Churches, USA. He is author of And Lead Us Not Into Dysfunction.