A big buzzword nowadays is empowerment. Lots of organizations use it for a variety of reasons. Many use it to really help individuals to accomplish what they really can on their own without being “spoon-fed” or having things done for them. Others use that term essentially to just off-load responsibilities. Still others use it as a marketing gimmick to push their own agenda/product. Often I hear “I want to empower you to …” What this translates is, “I want you to buy into my cause/product and get you to do the work for me”.

Seth Godin recently blogged how there are six elements which many companies and freelancers realize they must have in order to succeed in a post-industrial age (I’ll just focus on the first one):

  • Trust
  • Permission
  • Remarkability
  • Leadership
  • Stories that spread
  • Humanity: connection, compassion, and humility

The first one is HUGE. Without trust, there’s suspicion of one’s motives when it comes to “empowerment”. It’s not just whether you have a relationship with that person. It’s whether the other person believes you when you say, “I want to empower you to …” Empowerment is a recognized partnership between the two parties. It becomes a shared agenda in which one party is looking for ways to advance with the mutual offering from another party. However, too many times, people use “empowerment” really to push their own agenda.

I’m realizing more that I need to be much more careful about using that word now. When I use it in its proper context of shared agenda and the other person wanting to be empowered, then it’s a win-win for both. Otherwise, if I use it too much without having established trust, then I’ve reduced my own credibility and really am just pushing my own agenda under the guise of “empowering” people.

What are ways that you are appropriately “empowering” people? (What are ways that you’re abusing it?)

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