Empowerment as a Leadership Tool
Organizations very often fail due to poor leadership or the inability to lead. Poor leadership can range from toxic bosses, micro managers, fear and retribution, leaders with inadequate skills and neglectful leaders who fail to provide the necessary leadership to the organization. All of these failures result in the impact not only to the organization but more significantly on the most valuable resource the organization has, the individuals who make up the organization.
Warren Bennis, leadership expert, stated, “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” If you examine great leaders in the emergency services you will find that these individuals possess a caring attitude, passion for people, social intelligence, embrace and desire to make positive change, and above all, have the ability to set their sights on the things that truly merit attention. If you examine this skill set we can could say that it is a good one for every officer to follow. It is the job of leaders to develop a vision — establish what matters and articulate why — set direction and inspire others. Leadership does not rely on one’s title, seniority or ability to exert power. Rather, leaders emerge at all levels. True leaders cultivate a desire in those with whom they collaborate, to strive towards the organization’s mission, vision values and goals. All of this can be accomplished successfully through any number of leadership styles. For this article I want to focus on one particular component which is empowerment.
Empowerment is the process of enabling or authorizing an individual to think, behave, take action, control work and decision making in autonomous ways. It is the state of feeling self-empowered to take control of one’s own destiny. As a leader do you have an empowerment attitude? Often times we find ourselves, if we intra-¬¬inspect, not empowering but directing step by step the how and when.
The sum of every leader’s actions is the “environment” or “culture” they are creating within their own sphere of influence. Whatever you do, however you speak, however you act as a leader, is always communicating something to your followers or the personnel you are responsible to supervise. Actions can speak louder than words as your attitude dictates your actions especially when it comes to empowerment.
In the fire service we can divide leaders and the environments they build into two different categories:
Controlling: Extreme examples are dictators, micro managers and officers who think that no one can do the job as good as them, officers who don’t care about somebody else’s opinion, use fear of punishment or repercussions as primary motivation and force to execute their will.
Empowering: The commonality of these leaders is that they have very high values for individuals and their opinions. That’s why they encourage critical thinking and in turn gain highly innovative and motivated followers. They understand that they are most effective when their followers are the most empowered. This way their goal becomes finding the perfect spot for every individual’s predicated knowledge, skills and abilities. These leaders embrace and celebrate great ideas, outstanding work, amazing accomplishments and honoring excellent followers.
The difference is pretty obvious in these extreme examples. In real life, leaders routinely find themselves somewhere in-between these two extremes, oftentimes not even aware of how empowering or controlling they are and how much of the potential of their followers they release or hold back. Make a conscious effort in your leadership and attitude to be empowering. Your organization will reap the rewards
Douglas Cline is Chief of the Training and Professional Development Division with Horry County Fire Rescue. He is the Executive Editor for The Fire Officer and Executive Director for the Command Institute in Washington D.C. A 36 year fire and emergency services veteran as well as a well-known international speaker, Cline is a highly published author of articles, blogs and textbooks for both fire and EMS. As a chief officer, Cline is a distinguished authority of officer development and has traveled internationally delivering distinguished programs on leadership and officer development. He also has a diverse line of training videos on leadership, rapid intervention team training, vehicle fires, hose line management, and emergency vehicle operations and fire ground safety and survival.
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