Episode 15: Empowerment

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In this series, we're focusing on nourishing a culture of leadership by applying timeless principles of life to the art of leadership. In this episode, we're exploring Empowerment. To feel empowered is to have mind, heart and action in alignment with each other. This episode explores ways in which you can strengthen your own sense of empowerment and create environments in your organization that encourage people to empower themselves too.

Leadership Development Focus: Empowerment

When you consider being empowered, it is important to recognize that only you can empower yourself. It is an often misunderstood concept that any of us can empower another person.  If you notice that you are still holding onto concepts where you believe that you can empower someone else, it is time to reflect about that belief.  If you realize that you cannot empower another person, we suggest that you be vigilant about your words so that you are not communicating a belief that you can empower someone else.

Leadership and Empowerment

As a leader, if you cannot empower the people that you would like to empower, what can you do? Your skillfulness must lie in creating conditions for people to empower themselves.  You do have power in your leadership skillfulness to do so.

The Role of Fear in Empowerment

You might be skillful at creating conditions for people to empower themselves and yet when they do not do so, you might have a sense of failure and question your skillfulness with empowerment. As you study people and increase your awareness, you will notice that people habitually give their power away...to things, to ideas, to other people, to their fears. Their power stops where their fear begins.  People are not necessarily aware of their fears. They are not aware that they are stopping their own power. This is part of the answer to the question you may be having when you have created the conditions for people to claim their power.

Developing Your Leadership Capacity with Empowerment

You do have the power to create the conditions for people to claim their own power. It is something you have control of. Here, we're offering guidance for how to create these conditions. The points also double as a great checklist for you in the event that people are not claiming their power. You can go through this checklist to discern if there is something you are not doing.  You can even apply these to yourself and your sense of your own authority and power. Have you done these steps for yourself and if so, have you done them adequately? Don’t be dismayed if you are like many of us. It is not uncommon to discover that a person gets in their own way regarding their personal power, interrupting it without being aware of doing so.


Pay attention to the amount of authority that the person needs to accomplish their responsibilities Make sure they have the authority to get the job done.

Authority is about the ability to make decisions to achieve their responsibilities.  It is about being able to direct and control the necessary decisions and actions to get the job done – for themselves and for those on their work teams. It is about being respected for their ability to fulfil their responsibilities well.

Have you done this adequately? Are people in your organization clear about what kinds of decisions they can make and when they need to seek decisions from leaders? Are they able to make their own decisions the majority of the time so that their work flows smoothly and they are able to accomplish their responsibilities easily?

Habits of Interference

Pay attention to your own habits where you step in and interfere, possibly unconsciously, with the authority of the other person. These may be habits that are apparently beneficial which may have the unintended result of interfering with people’s sense of their own authority.

Operating Matrix

Create an operating matrix for the organization that supports people being empowered in their jobs, in the way meetings are carried out, in the ways that people can use their creative energies.

An operating matrix is a living plan and document that everyone in the organization works from. It describes the purpose and vision of the organization, including its strategic goals.  It describes the game plan for how the purpose and vision will be accomplished. It includes what is expected of people in their job descriptions including both reporting responsibilities and their responsibilities and authority to get the job done.

Empathetic Listening Skills

Listen with the empathetic listening skills of letting the person know that they have been heard and understood. You don’t need to agree with them. There is a feeling of power in people feeling heard and understood.


Notice how you are acknowledging people and how you are communicating with them. Shift your communication to ‘I’ messages, rather than ‘You’ messages as much as possible.  ‘I’ messages create a different way of engaging. Practice using I messages that then focus on the issue at hand, avoiding falling back into "you" messages further into the conversation.

Empowering Yourself

In applying this checklist to yourself, if you discover you are interrupting your own power, you might find it useful to ask yourself about what your fear is. Remember, your power ends where your fear begins. In our experience, this is often not a pleasant exercise to take ourselves through, and yet it is very useful.  The awareness helps you choose that you can do something about it. This can have life changing and business changing results.

You need your own techniques for staying in your own power. In leadership, a big part of your skillfulness in creating conditions for people to empower themselves is for you to be a person who has empowered yourself. And for you to stay in your power.

Strengthening Your Leadership Capacity with Empowerment

The biggest learning you may go through is to expand your capacity to be present to, and work with, people who are empowered. The feeling initially can be one of feeling that you do not have control anymore. You don’t know what empowered people are going to do next.  Imagine having raised your children with conditions for them to empower themselves and then realizing that they are empowered adolescents. You then experience empowered adolescents and despite you having said you wanted this, you might feel intimidated regarding how to maintain your empowerment and the conditions for their empowerment. The same holds true if you wanted empowered staff, and then you are in a leadership role with staff that are empowered. It is very different for you than being in a leadership role with staff who have not empowered themselves.

Step 1: Empowering Yourself

Continually work at empowering yourself. In order to have the capacity to be present to empowered people, you need to work to:

  • keep your mind, heart, and actions in alignment
  • be aware of your fears, knowing that in order for your power to be in a flow, you need to face the fears, maybe one at a time, doing whatever you need to do to move through that fear

Step 2: Engaging

Make a plan for how you will engage with people who are empowered:

  • write a long narrative in your journal about your thoughts of what this might be like and about what you know of your own habits that can usurp empowerment in yourself and in others
  • go through the narrative and discover themes...distill these to a few sentences. This is a good time to work with a learning buddy or a coach as it may be challenging to get to the themes and sentences on your own.
  • from these insights, develop a list of agreements that you make with yourself.

About the Developing Leadership Series

We work the Genuine Contact way, nourishing a culture of leadership, applying timeless principles of life to the art of leadership. In this learning series, Birgitt Williams and Rachel Bolton are sharing our own wisdom and insights about the art of leadership. We'll be inviting you to consider your own experiences in life and business so far, and how you want to further your leadership development with this theme.

In this series, our intention is to offer you unique opportunities to continually develop your leadership. By developing your leadership you expand your potential. Your life changes and you gain greater insights and capacity for leading your life. Your leadership of your team, organization, congregation, and even your family brings about possibility thinking, transcending ordinary thinking and ordinary results.

In each episode, we will be exploring one key principle. You will hear our own experiences and understanding of each of these timeless principles.  We'll suggest simple activities you can do to develop your own leadership by working with these principles too. Subscribe to receive future episodes by email.

Rachel Bolton
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We specialize in developing leaders, teams, and organizations for the new leadership paradigm of "leading so people will lead". In this series, our Dalar team of Birgitt Williams and Rachel Bolton are sharing our own wisdom and insights about the art of leadership.
Rachel Bolton
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