The “empowerment” pushback (do you agree?)

Word cloud centered on "empower"There’s a growing trend on social media and in leadership blogs and podcasts – especially those intended for a primarily female audience – of rejecting the concept of “empowerment.”

The argument is that people, especially women, don’t need to “be empowered,” which implies they need to be “given” power.  Instead, they need to, or should, claim and step into their innate power.

From a feminist standpoint – and, for that matter, a general people standpoint – I agree.

But from a leadership perspective, I emphatically disagree.

Here’s why.

Leaders are taught, not born

Leadership skills are teachable, and therefore learnable. And when we learn new skills, we are empowered in ways that we weren’t before.

As an individual contributor, you’re responsible for completing tasks that contribute to the success of a project, team, department, and the company overall. While you may have innate leadership talent, talent is not the same as skill.

So then you get promoted. Now you’re a first-line manager or supervisor.

The promotion isn’t enough

In the climb through the ranks of individual contribution, a.k.a. being a team player, by the time you’re promoted to the next level, you’re already fulfilling at least 80 percent of the responsibilities belonging to that level.

But very little about being a team member prepares you for leadership. The promotion isn’t enough; it doesn’t magically convey the skills you need to make the transition.

Therefore, most first-line, recently-promoted managers and supervisors feel painfully confused and uncertain about how to proceed – anything but innately powerful.

Learning skills = becoming empowered

Too few organizations recognize the need for leadership skills support – training and coaching – to truly empower their recently-promoted managers and supervisors to lead.

That’s why as many as 60 percent of new leaders fail in their first year: they haven’t been empowered to be the leaders they want to be, and their organization needs them to be.

When leadership skills support is lacking, and the potential leader is not empowered with the knowledge they need to become confident and effective, teams struggle and projects are at risk.

It’s that simple.

And that’s why I claim the word empowered as crucially important for leadership.