Expert advice on Business Leadership and tips on becoming a more effective Leader.

Leadership Skills: What Empowerment Really Means — And What it Doesn’t By Joe Tye

There are two common misconceptions about that overused, misused, and often-abused buzzword “empowerment.”

First, empowerment does not mean “do your own thing,” it has nothing to do with whether or not you can wear business casual on Fridays, or (for you managers reading this) delegating unpleasant tasks to subordinates and then looking over their shoulders to make sure they perform them the way you would.

Second, empowerment is not something that someone else can give to you – because anything that can be given can be taken away, and loaned empowerment is not the real thing.

True empowerment is an inside job. No one can truly empower you but you, and once you have empowered yourself, no one can take that power away from you (though they can take away other things, such as your job, depending upon the choices you make for how to use that power).

One good working definition of empowerment is believing that you can make a good faith decision and take an action to do the right thing for a coworker, a patient, or a customer without having to seek permission, and without fear of recrimination if it doesn’t go as planned.

Proceed Until Apprehended…

Though Florence Nightingale never used the words “Proceed Until Apprehended” (at least not that was ever recorded), that was a pretty good description of her approach to getting things done. As is often the case when people have that attitude, this paragon of self-empowerment was rarely apprehended.

Last week, I was at a meeting of the Mid America Hospital Alliance sponsored by The Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha and I heard a beautiful story of “Proceed Until Apprehended” in action.

A young mother had been transported to the hospital from a smaller hospital after a serious car wreck. Her first question upon coming out of a coma was to ask about her two sons, who had been in the car with her. They had, she was told, both been killed in the accident.

She was obviously devastated, and in her grief her one wish was to see her boys once more, to tell them goodbye. There was no way she could leave the intensive care unit, but the nurses there – without seeking permission from any higher authority – contacted the morgues at both hospitals and arranged for the boys to be prepared and transported to the ICU so this grieving mother could see them one last time.

That noble action captures what true empowerment means. It’s not about being empowered, and it’s not about you – it’s about assuming the power you need to do the right thing for someone else. True empowerment never sees barriers, only solutions. And the truly empowered are rarely apprehended – if for no other reason than they are moving too fast.
Joe Tye is president of Paradox 21 Inc., which provides corporate training and culture change initiatives based on a proprietary curriculum of The Twelve Core Action Values of Personal Leadership Effectiveness. He is also the author of several books and audio programs on personal, career, and business success, and a popular motivational speaker. Visit

-Consider some of the ways you can implement the lessons in the above article into your day to day routine. What are your thoughts on the above ideas?

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