“Empowerment” has become something of a catch phrase not only in businesses and other secular organizations, but in the church as well. We talk about being “empowering leaders” who call forth the best in others. We want people to “feel empowered” to exercise their gifts. We hope those with whom we work will “become empowered” as the result of our leadership.
Recently, I came across this quote from Robert E. Quinn in Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within that changed my paradigm completely.
"We do not, however, empower people. Empowerment cannot be delegated. We can only develop an appropriate empowering environment where people will have to take the initiative to empower themselves."
This caught my attention. Empowerment is not something I do to someone else. Just as I cannot motivate another person to do something, I cannot empower that person to release his or her gifts. I cannot force them to be all that they can be. The power is not in my hands; it is in theirs. That’s what empowerment is all about; it is internal not external.
I was visiting with a friend who was interested in coaching, and I hoped to enlist him as client. In the course of the conversation, he said, “Tell me about some of your success stories.” This caught me off guard and offended me a bit. Quickly, I realized that my concept of coaching was not based on my own success but on that of those I coach. If there is a “win,” it belongs to the person being coached and not to me. I did not share any “success stories” with my friend, and I must not have done a very good job of explaining my approach since I did not get him as a client.
The role of the coach is not to empower or to make someone a success. The role of the coach, as Quinn explains the role of the leader, is to create an environment where those with whom we work can come to empower themselves. It is not about me; it’s about you.