“Empower” is another slippery word, used with good intentions, but when we really break it down, it can have a very negative connotation." Mark A. Adams, Courageous Conflict: Leading with Integrity and AuthenticityIf you watch any presentation on leadership, or lurk in any Twitter discussion regarding reform or change, chances are, your going to hear the word "empower" mentioned. It is a pet word of sorts. School administrators toss it around a great deal when talking about ideas such as continuous improvement, school change, or school improvement. But what does the word actually mean in these contexts?
As Mark Adams points out, "Empower is a slippery word" and I am quite positive school leaders use the word with good intentions, but very often, it can be used as a means to manipulate others to do something we want them to do. It those instances it takes on a slippery nature. As Adams points out, in these cases, we are nothing more than a father telling his child that he is "empowering that child to clean his room." That's a clear abuse of the word empowerment, and you can bet your staff will see through that in a minute.
In many school leadership situations, empowerment is more of a "giving permission." In these situations, the school leader is granting a staff "permission" to simply carryout his or her wishes. This type of empowerment does not lead staff to experiment, to innovate. They simply carry out the leadership program established from on high. There's no ownership; staff simply do as they are told or "given permission to do."
If you really want to empower, you have to relinquish your authority and trust others to act in your stead. You allow them to make decisions, and, because you empower them, you let go and allow them to act, not necessarily as you would have acted. They are acting because you have given them ownership of the situation, and your job now is to accept and support what they do.
Today, and for the coming school year, pay attention to how you use and employ "empowerment." Are you manipulating or truly trusting someone to act in your stead? There is really a difference.