“Empowerment” is another one of those key terms that business leaders like to refer to. It is also used freely in military instruction when referring to influencing an organized group towards a common goal (leadership). It is also one of those words that has a million caveats, what-ifs, how-tos, and no real black and white instruction to be read and understood. As is every other article I’ve composed, I’m going to give my views and experiences on empowerment, and add what I feel is an important, and reinforcing supplement: Review and personal reflection.
Telling someone that you have the genuine confidence in them that they can achieve something is almost always a sure way to get results. We learned that when we were told, “you can do it, I know it” the first time we balanced ourselves out on our bicycles without our training wheels. I know I personally am more likely to achieve something I don’t think I could if someone else told me they thought I could, and then set me on course to do so. Even more convincing is when I know I am being counted on to accomplish that task, or reach that goal. Therein lies the difference between encouragement and empowerment. You can encourage someone with confidence to achieve previously doubtful goals. In order to empower someone, you must not only encourage, but place them in control of something that is being relied on by more than just that person’s desire for accomplishment. They have to be given something that they know will be looked at as a product of their efforts, and then encouraged to “show us what you’ve got”.
There are two specific examples of my professional career where I felt the effects of empowerment as the subject who was empowered. First, was when as a junior Corporal in the Marine Corps, I was placed in a billet well above my pay grade and assigned to those with 5+ more years of experience than I had at the time. I was firing on all cylinders just to tread water at first. A month into it, my Master Gunnery Sergeant, the highest ranking enlisted Marine in my trade had a talk with me. He asked if I felt I need to have a Staff Non-Commissioned Officer assigned to my section (which rated 2 of them). If I did, he would get one assigned. But he then told me that he would be interested to see how I did in the role… and if I was up for the challenge, the “shop” was mine. He said he didn’t expect me to be an expert to start, but expected me to do my best and he had confidence in me either way. I asked for the chance. The personal drive I had to be the absolute best at anything that pertained to the job I had or Marines I was leading was palpable.
The second example was while I was deployed to Iraq. I was acting as a chief instructor for enhanced marksmanship. My company Executive Officer (XO) and my section Gunnery Sergeant (direct boss) said I was responsible for running a 2 day range, and that I would be instructing to subordinates, peers and senior ranked Marines that had not been introduced to the Enhanced Marksmanship Program. I felt their confidence in me, and there was nothing I was afraid of more than making the XO or Gunnery Sergeant look bad by giving me the chance. I had to prove they made the right decision.
I later was told by the XO that some of the senior Marines from the range I instructed approached him directly to mention their appreciation for the range and quality of instruction. I was floored! Then I was surprised… The XO sat me down with a video recording of the range and all the informal lectures I gave as a part of the shooting package. He told me I received a lot of compliments, but, he wanted me to see what they thought was good. He also wanted me to see myself, and see what I thought I could do better. He provided his insight, but he gave me the chance to review myself. I didn’t comprehend what he was doing at the time beyond face value… but I was able to reflect, and what he did was HUGE! I was motivated with empowerment, and then held accountable for my choices, good or bad, and encouraged to do it all over again! They told me they had confidence in me, that I was allowed and EXPECTED to learn at full speed, and that no matter how well I thought I ever did at anything, it could always be improved.
I never got to thank any of them for those lessons… but if they read this, they know who they are.
Master Guns, XO, Gunny,