Leadership as Empowerment

Rod St Hill (1)

Leadership expert, John Maxwell, has famously written, ‘The true measure of leadership is influence… nothing more, nothing less’(2). Ken Blanchard characterizes leadership, ‘As an influence process in which you try to help people accomplish goals.’ (3) One of the most popular undergraduate textbooks on leadership defines the concept as, ‘A process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal.’(4)  I propose that there should be an ‘and’ added to influence. In the 21st century, leadership is, or ought to be, about both influence and empowerment. 

Influence creates in followers a will to achieve a goal, but empowerment creates in followers a capacity to achieve a goal. Influence is the product of vision casting, communication and the leader’s authenticity. Empowerment is the product of delegation of responsibility and authority, coaching followers and resourcing them. 

Leaders need to delegate rather than direct. A leader who directs people in a group is not a leader at all, but an overseer. An overseer is oriented towards completion of a task, not discovering and nurturing the talents and motivations of people in a group and equipping them to achieve group goals. Delegation of responsibility provides group members opportunities to discover, deploy and develop their own relational and technical capacities. When authority is simultaneously delegated, group members have opportunities to grow morally as they develop their capacity to make decisions.

Coaching goes hand-in-hand with delegation and involves identifying areas in which followers need to grow. Growth might be needed in one or more of three areas:

  • relationally (working productively and felicitously with others), 
  • technically (possessing competence with respect to tasks) or 
  • morally (capacity to make decisions aligned with the values of the organization or group). 

Leaders ought to be competent in these areas and need to guide followers, not only by example, but also by mentoring them and/or encouraging them into appropriate professional and/or personal development opportunities.

Finally, leaders need to provide resources. There is little point in delegating if there is no flow of resources to support the goals of the organization or group. Coaching is a resource in itself because it is investment in increasing the capacities of followers. Followers might also be arranged in one or more task-focused teams where each team member specializes in their own unique gifts and talents. However, it is rarely enough. Financial resources are also usually necessary. In a formal organization this is achieved through budget allocation. In an informal group marshaling financial resources is both difficult and complex. A leader who delegates ought to have more time to deal with financial resourcing through fundraising, although this might also be delegated to some extent.

Leadership as influence and empowerment aligns fairly well with the idea of servant leadership. Northouse says servant leadership, ‘Puts the leader in the role of servant who utilizes “caring principles” to focus on followers needs to help these followers become more autonomous, knowledgeable and like servants themselves.’(5) Blanchard has a more complex approach, separating servant leadership into leadership and servanthood ‘aspects’. He suggests that the leadership aspect is the visionary/direction (or strategic) role and that the servanthood aspect is the implementation (or operational) role. (6)

I propose that leaders who practise servanthood by ‘serving’ are prone to burnout physically, mentally and emotionally if in ‘serving’ they overemphasize ‘caring principles’. Leaders who practice servanthood by empowering followers are far less susceptible to burnout and much more likely to help followers become more autonomous and knowledgeable and develop in them the competence to see to it that implementation goes well

(1) Dr Rod St Hill is CEO of Leaders Institute, a registered private higher education provider in Brisbane, Australia. He is also Senior Pastor and Director of IgniteLife Business at IgniteLife Church Gold Coast, a member of Australian Christian Churches (Assemblies of God in Australia). He has lectured in economics, management, leadership and governance for nearly 40 years and is actively engaged in the Business As Mission movement.

(2) Maxwell, John, (1998) The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, Thomas Nelson, title of ch. 2.

(3) Blanchard, Ken (2018) What is servant leadership?, in Blanchard, Ken and Broadwell, Renee (eds), Servant Leadership in Action: How You Can Achieve Great Relationships and Results, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, p. 7.

(4) Peter G Northouse (2019), Leadership: Theory and Practice, 8th edn, SAGE, p. 5.

(5) Northouse, p. 4.

(6) Blanchard and Broadwell, p. 7.

1 Comment

  1. Avatar David Hodgson on March 26, 2019 at 11:54 pm

    Excellent Rod! Great revelation combining influence and empowerment to create a holistic leader.

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