Don’t shy away from empowerment – even if you think the word is overused



Empowerment is one of those buzzwords that often creates exaggerated eye rolling when it’s excessively used out of context. However, when it’s practiced rather than simply preached, the results are undeniably effective.


The key aspect of “empowerment” for leaders at all levels is to remember that it means “hands on” as much as ever – but not in the archaic micromanaging way that serves as default mode for many managers. Today’s workforce refuses to bow to micromanagers – they bolt for the many greener pastures available as soon as they can when the dreaded mircomanager rears its head.

Empowerment can define a company’s culture. It can set the tone for the way employees interact with management, co-workers, and most important, clients and prospects.

Empowered hotel employees have confidence and self-awareness. Empowered employees know they can make a difference for a guest because management has given them the ability to make appropriate decisions. Empowered corporate employees keep projects moving forward without having to stop and ask for permission to dot I’s and cross T’s at every step. Improved productivity is one genuine result of employee empowerment.

Back in the old days, we used the words “trust” and “responsibility” instead of “empowerment.” However, the intent was the same: Provide employees with opportunities to think on their feet, do what’s in the best interest of company success, and gain decision-making skills to help them grow their careers.

Some on-the-job empowerment is considered necessary for today’s career seekers. Be sure to vet candidates for decision-making abilities from the get-go. Building a team of such self-empowered employees at the ground floor makes the foundation that much stronger and provides ample opportunities for expansion across the board.

The atmosphere is fueled by having frequent conversations to stimulate ideas and encourage feedback about what decisions have been made and what others are coming. Employees in 2020 want to engage in their development; they are eager to demonstrate their worth to the company through making sound decisions that affect the bottom line (which isn’t always a financial bottom line).

The most valuable aspect of empowerment is that it helps companies create diverse and flexible thought processes. As much as every boss (present company included) thinks they have all the answers, empowering employees allows that boss to learn new things, too.


The best hiring advice I ever received came in the early 1990s when my boss told me to make sure to avoid hiring clones of yourself, your work habits, your creative process. A team of clones eventually runs the same route over and over – so much so that it creates a path to staleness and mundane predictability. Hire people you can trust with responsibility – even if they get results in different ways than you do, he said. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was my introduction to empowerment.

Since then, I’ve learned there are at least three important steps in the empowerment process:

  • Communicate, but don’t overdo it! Let employees know up front what’s expected of them, then let them do it. It’s OK to check in and ask if they need any assistance or support, but don’t barrage them with “Did you do this?” or “Did you do that?” communications. If you trust them enough to give them the responsibility, give them the independence to operate.
  • Provide feedback. It’s generally good to tell people when they do a good job – and to tell them why. The same can be said for coaching employees through mistakes. Be direct and give examples of how things can be done better. Setting up checkpoints for routine updates can provide excellent opportunities for feedback.
  • Hold employees accountable. With responsibility comes consequences if things don’t get done. Failure is OK and it shouldn’t be a surprise to you when it happens. Someone who empowers employees needs to watch from afar and catch them if they start faltering. But catching them doesn’t mean admonishing them. Tell them you’ve noticed something that they might need help with and provide them with coaching – not ultimatums, demands, or lectures. The bottom line is that employees should know accountability comes with empowerment.


Empowerment can have a lasting effect on your company. As a leader, creating empowered employees helps fill a vacuum when you or another leader leave for another opportunity. If you’ve done your job well, your employees can step into your roles and make the transition smoother for everyone involved. Of course, there’s no replacing experience, but empowered employees who helped build the culture can keep the trains running on time. There’s no substitute for continuity for a company in transition.

The key to successful empowerment is to implement it without a lot of fanfare. Building an empowerment-driven operation is done as a normal course of business. Building a culture that allows employees to make mistakes, learn from others, and ultimately deliver results by being as independent as possible is, in most cases, a reward in and of itself.

Jeff Higley is president of The BHN Group and produces ALIS and ALIS LAW among other hotel investment conferences.


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