10 Principles for Empowerment

“The Magic of Quantum Leap Thinking™” Part 11: Empowerment

When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.

― Toni Morrison

When you think of power, what images come to mind? Often the word is associated with control. Those who have power are usually on top and in control.

Switch the paradigm and you will see real power works just the opposite way. It springs up from the bottom instead of flowing down from the top. Real power comes not by intimidating and manipulating, but by freeing others so they can be all they can be.

Does leading, managing, or parenting with an iron hand get results? Of course it does.

For example, if employees are managed by heavy-handed bureaucratic control, those employees will do their jobs. If children are threatened, they often do what they’re told. But results will be short term.

Commitment and morale will be low. There will always be a subtle rebellion. The iron hand creates a fear-based environment, fear stifles risk-taking and creativity. You may get what you asked for, but you can be sure you won’t get anything more. People will comply, but they won’t commit.

In the workplace, lightning-fast changes in technology and the marketplace, increased consumer awareness, and the communication explosion make it impossible for those sitting at the top of the organization to receive information quickly enough. Employees who are closer to the customers and their coworkers are key to keeping a competitive edge.

Employees must have the authority to make rapid decisions without fear of being punished. Empowerment is not an option here but a necessity.

On a personal level, understand that most people realize a small fraction of their full potential simply because they don’t feel a sense of power. Bureaucratic management or dominating parents do little to encourage initiative and peak performance. If the power rests at the top, underlings feel powerless to become motivated, and settle for mediocrity. The secret to successful management, parenting, and partnering lies in learning how to release the hidden potential of others.

What’s the answer?

The first rule of personal empowerment is focus. When we focus on what we cannot control, like the behavior of other people, we feel powerless and suffer the most impotent kind of helplessness, resentment and anger.

When we focus on what we can control—the meaning of our experience—we feel empowered.


10 principles for empowerment

To feel powerful—and valuable—interpret your experience in the most benign way realistically possible. This may lead to some disappointment regarding interactions with others, but in the long run, it will boost well-being and prevent much regret.

Beginning with this first rule, here are ten rules for empowerment.

  1. Ask for help in solving problems.
    The simple act of asking for help sends a message to others that you value them and respect their opinions.
  2. Give authority along with responsibility.
    First, you have to let go of the thought that you can do it better and faster. You must give authority equal to the responsibilities assigned. People need the necessary authority to carry out the tasks.
  3. Set standards.
    Set standards that stretch people beyond their self-impose limits. Expect resistance, but it’s only when people are stretched that they discover talents they never knew they had, enabling them to tap into their hidden personal power.
  4. Provide training.
    Provide the training necessary for people to live up to those standards. You wouldn’t ask a man to be your chauffeur if he didn’t know how to drive. Provide people with the necessary skills to accomplish their jobs. You want to give people every chance possible to meet with success. Training builds confidence and self-esteem.
  5. Share information.
    Never withhold information. Empowerment means providing the knowledge to make the necessary decisions to meet performance standards. Managers gain power when their employees are well informed. Parents encounter less resistance from their children when children know why and how.
  6. Listen and respond with empathy.
    People want to be heard. Listening is healing. Let go of the need to justify or defend. Walk in the other person’s shoes. Create a space where people can express their fears without being made wrong. You empower by letting others know they are of value simply by listening.
  7. Provide constant feedback.
    If people are to move to new heights of excellence, they must know how they are performing and how they need to improve. We often fail to give proper feedback because we assume people know when they are doing an excellent job. The eye cannot behold itself. People can’t evaluate their own performance. Often, we are too busy to stop and look inwards.

    Give feedback as close to the completion of the task as possible. Feedback not only reinforces positive performance, but also shows a person how and when he/she needs to improve. Feedback builds pride, enhances self-esteem, and motivates.

  8. Give people permission to fail.
    When people are afraid to fail, they play it safe. No mistakes equal no growth. Their reach never exceeds their grasp. Goals are set low. Mediocrity is a comfortable way of life.

    By giving people permission to fail, you empower them to take risks, stretch, and move behind their limits. You free their most powerful tool: their imagination.

  9. Treat people with dignity, kindness and respect.
    To know the truth of this, all you will have to do is ask yourself how you feel when you are treated with disrespect.
  10. Recognize and reward achievement.
    When people feel like winners, they act like winners. There is no mystery here.


These ‘10 Empowerment Points’ will trigger your own ideas as to how you can help others today.

I conclude with a few questions that will stimulate your thinking to take action now.

When do you have the opportunity to ask for help in solving a problem?

To whom can you give more authority to fulfill their designated responsibilities?

What additional training, support and life lessons can you provide either at home or in the workplace?

With whom can you spend more time listening?

What do you need to change about your attitude, behavior, or actions to clearly demonstrate that you respect the dignity of the individual?

You can help release the potential of others.



James Mapes is a keynote speaker, best-selling author, coach and hypnotist. His most recent book IMAGINE THAT! Igniting Your Brain for Creativity and Peak Performance is the first web-supported book with access to 21 video-coaching clips.