Delegation then Empowerment – putting the horse before the cart

During a recent coach mentoring session with a newly appointed production manager in an engineering business the topic of empowerment was raised. This was expected sooner or later as the manager is stereotypically wanting and trying ‘to do it all’ himself; with all the obvious problems and issues resulting. He is clearly over burdened (largely by himself) and experiencing some associated issues and stress. I also know, from other work I am commissioned by the same company to do, he is storing up some less obvious future problems such as alienation of experienced supervisors and uninformed decision making. An apparent solution to his immediate problems and concerns is to include his competent and experienced supervisors in his decision making and delegate accordingly. However, somewhat surprisingly, his proposed solution was to empower his supervisors – an interesting idea to explore, more so in considering the relationship between coaching and mentoring.

My first concern was to ‘calibrate’ our individual perspectives and determine whether the manager understood the meaning of ‘to empower’ and the nuances or differences implied by the two phrases ‘to delegate’ and ‘to empower’. This may seem somewhat pedantic but the significance and impact of perspective and understanding on communication is not lost on me. Interestingly we both did largely agree on what we understood empowerment to be and unsurprisingly for me the differences or nuances between the two were not. My solution was to shift from coach to mentor and talk through and review some training material in relation to his current situation and in so doing using a couple of useful definitions readily available on the www to frame discussion around. Broadly, this is how the session went.

Empowerment is to invest with power or legal authority (source In this respect I draw attention to the specific meanings of individual words within this definition. Namely;

Power is the ability to do something

Authority is the right to do something

Invest is to commit (something value) to gain a return (something of worth)

Empowerment is the practice of sharing information, rewards and power with employees so that they can take initiative and make decisions to solve problems and improve service and performance. Empowerment is based on the idea that giving employees skills, resources, authority, opportunity and motivation as well holding them responsible and accountable for outcomes of their actions will contribute to their competence and satisfaction (source For me, the ‘acid question’ was; are both you and your team of supervisors in a position to empower and be empowered? His response was a considered and reasoned decision they were not yet and so we moved on to discuss the matter of delegation in the same manner.

Delegation is the granting of authority by one party to another party for agreed purposes (source The key considerations vis a vis our discussion of empowerment included;

Retention of ultimate accountability – by the manager

Shift of decision making downwards – by involvement / inclusion

Risk versus benefits – understanding what must and needs to be retained

Boundaries – clearly defined to avoid misunderstanding

Expectations – managed both ways from the outset

Support – recognising needs and limitations then addressing them

The result then was for me to shift back to the role of coach and facilitate the manager’s development of an action plan to achieve effective delegation of appropriate tasks whilst concurrently involving his team of supervisors in his decision making. I await the details of his proposed action plan(s) and the results / observations from the implementation of the same with some interest.

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