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Organizational Behavior (Mgt 502)

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1989, Vol. /iI, No. 1, pp. 17-24
@TheAcademy of Management EXECUTIVE,

Leadership: The Art of EmpoweringOthers

JayA. Conger
McGill University

"Oneoughtto be both fearedandloved,butasit In this article, I will explore these practices further by
is difficultfor the two to go together,it is much drawing upon a recent study of senior executives who
saferto be fearedthanloved. . . for love is held proved themselves highly effective leaders. They were
bya chainof obligationwhich,men beingselfish, selected by a panel of professors at the Harvard Business
is brokenwheneverit servestheirpurpose;but School and management consultants who were well ac-
fear is maintainedby a dread of punishment quainted with them and their companies. The study included
whichnever fails." eight chief executive officers and executive vice-presidents
The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli of Fortune 500 companies and successful entrepreneurial
firms, representing industries as diverse as telecommunica-
I n his handbook, The Prince, Machiavelliassureshis tions, office automation, retail banking, beverages, pack-
readers - some being aspiringleaders, no doubt - that aged foods, and managementconsulting. Ineach case, these
only by carefully amassing power and building a fearsome individualswere responsible for either the creation of highly
respect could one become a great leader. While the shad- successful companies or for performing what were de-
owy court life of 16th-centuryItalydemanded such treachery scribed as remarkable turnarounds. During my study of
to ensure one's power, it seems hard to imagine Machiavel- these executives, Iconducted extensive interviews,observed
li's advice today as anything but a historical curiosity. Yet, them on the job, read company and other documents, and
interestingly,much of the management literaturehas focused talked with their colleagues and subordinates. While the
on the strategies and tactics that managers can use to study focused on the broader issue of leadership styles,
increase their own power and influence.' As such, a Machia- intensive interviewswith these executives and their subordi-
vellian quality often pervades the literature, encouraging nates revealed that many were characterized as empowering
managers to ensure that their power base is strong and leaders. Theiractions were perceived as building confidence
growing. At the same time a small but increasing number of and restoring a sense of personal power and self-efficacy
management theorists have begun to explore the idea that during difficult organizational transitions. From this study, I
organizational effectiveness also depends on the sharing of identified certain organizational contexts of powerlessness
power - that the distribution of power is more important and management practices derived to remedy them.
than the hoarding of power.2 In this article I will also illustrate several of these
While the idea of making others feel more powerful practices through a series of vignettes. While the reader may
contradicts the stereotype of the all-powerful executive, recognize some of the basic ideas behind these practices
research suggests that the traditional ways of explaining a (such as providing greater opportunities for initiative), it is
leader's influence may not be entirely correct. Forexample, often the creative manner in which the leader deploys the
recent leadershipstudies argue that the practiceof empower- particularpractice that distinguishes them. The reader will
ing - or instilling a sense of power - is at the root of discover how they have been carefully tailored to fit the
organizationaleffectiveness, especially during times of tran- context at hand. I might add, however, that these practices
sition and transformation.3Inaddition, studies of power and represent just a few of the broad repertoire of actions that
control within organizations indicate that the more produc- leaders can take to make an empowering difference in their
tive forms of organizational power increase with superiors' organizations.
sharing of power and responsibilitywith subordinates.4And
while there is an increasing awareness of this need for more
empowering leadership, we have only recently startedto see
documentation about the actual practices that leaders
employ to effectively build a sense of power among organi-
zational members as well as the contexts most suited for
empowerment practices.5


1. The Squirt-gun Shootouts: Providing a Positive

A Word About Empowerment Emotional Atmosphere. An empowering practice that
emerged from the study was that of providing positive emo-
We can think of empowerment as the act of strength- tional support, especially through play or drama. Forexam-
ening an individual's beliefs in his or her sense of effective- ple, every few months, several executives would stage dra-
ness. In essence, then, empowerment is not simply a set of matic "up sessions" to sustainthe motivationand excitement
external actions; it is a process of changing the internal of their staff.They would host an afternoon-long, or a one- or
beliefs of people.6 We know from psychology that individu- two-day event devoted solely to confidence building. The
als believe themselves powerful when they feel they can event would open with an upliftingspeech about the future,
adequately cope with environmental demands - that is, followed by a special, inspirationalspeaker. At these events
situations, events, and people they confront. They feel pow- there would often be films meant to build excitement or
erless when they are unable to cope with these demands. confidence - for example, a film depicting a mountain
Any management practice that increases an individual's climber ascending a difficult peak. The message being con-
sense of self-determination will tend to make that individual veyed is that this person is finding satisfactionin the work he
feel more powerful. The theory behind these ideas can be or she does at an extraordinarylevel of competence. There
traced to the work of Alfred Bandura,who conceptualized would also be rewardsfor exceptional achievements. These
the notion of self-efficacy beliefs and their role in an individ- sessions acted as ceremonies to enhance the personal status
ual's sense of personal power in the world.7 and identity of employees and revive the common feelings
From his research in psychology, Banduraidentified that binded them together.9
four means of providing empowering informationto others: An element of playappears to be especially liberating
(1) through positive emotional support during experiences in situationsof great stressand demoralization. Inthe study's
associated with stress and anxiety, (2) through words of examples, play allowed for the venting of frustrationsand in
encouragement and positive persuasion, (3) by observing turn permitted individuals to regain a sense of control by
others' effectiveness - in other words, having models of stepping back from their pressures for a moment. As Ban-
success with whom people identified - and (4) by actually dura suggests, the positive emotional support provided by
experiencing the mastering of a task with success (the most something like play alleviates, to some extent, concerns
effective source). Each of these sources of empowerment about personal efficacy.10
was used by the study executives and will be identified in the For example, one of the subjects of the study, Bill
practice examples, as will other sources identified by organi- Jackson, was appointed the head of a troubled division.
zational researchers. Demand had outstripped the division's ability to maintain
adequate inventories, and product qualityhad slipped. Jack-
son's predecessors were authoritarianmanagers,and subor-
Several Empowering Management Practices
dinates were demoralized as well as paranoidabout keeping
Before describing the actual practices, it is important their jobs. As one told me, "You never knew who would be
to firstdraw attention to an underlying attitude of the study shot next." Jacksonfelt that he had to break the tension in a
participants. These empowering leaders shared a strong way that would allow his staffto regain their sense of control
underlying belief in their subordinates' abilities. It is essen- and power. He wanted to remove the stiffnessand paranoia
tially the Theory Y argument;8 if you believe in people's and turn what subordinates perceived as an impossible task
abilities, they will come to believe in them. Allthe executives into something more fun and manageable.
in the study believed that their subordinates were capable of So, I was told, at the end of his first staff meeting,
managing their current situations. They did not employ Jacksonquietly pulled out a squirt-gunand blasted one of his
wholesale firings as a means of transformingtheir organiza- managers with water. At first, there was a moment of
tions. Rather, they retained the majority of their staff and stunned silence, and then suddenly the room was flooded
moved those who could not perform up to standard to with laughter. He remarked with a smile, "You gotta have
positions where they could. The essential lesson is that an fun in this business. It's not worth having your stomach in
assessment of staffskillsis imperative before embarking on a ulcers." This began a month of squirt-gun fights between
program of empowerment. This basic belief in employees' Jacksonand his managers.
abilities underlies the following examples of management The end result? A senior manager's comment is
practices designed to empower. We will begin with the representative: "He wanted people to feel comfortable, to
practice of providing positive emotional support. feel in control. He used waterguns to do that. Itwas a game.
It took the stiffness out of the business, allowed people to
play in a safe environment - as the boss says,'to have fun."'
Thisplay restored rapportand morale. ButJacksonalso knew
when to stop. A senior manager told me, "We haven't used
waterguns in nine months. Ithas served its purpose.... The
waterfights were like being accepted into a club. Once it
achieved its purpose, it would have been overdone."

Leadership: The Art of Empowering Others

Interviewafterinterviewwith subordinatesconfirmed This executive and others also make extensive use of
the effectiveness of the squirt-gun incident. It had been personal letters to individualsthanking them for their efforts
experienced as an empowering ritual. In most contexts, this and projects. A typical letter might read, "Fred, I would
behavior would have been abusive. Why did it work? personally like to thank you for your contribution to
Because it is a management practice that fit the needs of and I want you to know that I appreciate it." Lunches and
subordinates at the appropriate time. dinners are hosted for special task accomplishments.
The executive's staff consisted largely of young men, Public recognition is also employed as a means of
"rough and ready" individuals who could be described as rewarding. As one subordinate commented about his boss,
fun-loving and playful. They were accustomed to an in-
"He will make sure that people know that so and
formal atmosphere and operated in a very down-to-earth
so did an excellent job on something. He's
style. Jackson's predecessor, on the other hand, had been
superb on giving people credit. If the person has
stiff and formal.
done an exceptional job on a task or project, he
Jackson preferred to manage more informally. He
will be given the opportunity to present his or
wanted to convey, quickly and powerfully, his intentions of
her findings all the way to the board. Six months
managing in a style distinct from his predecessor's. He was
later, you'll get a call from a friend and learn that
concerned, however, that his size - he is a very tall, ener-
he has dropped your name in a speech that you
getic, barrel-chested man - as well as his extensive back-
ground in manufacturing would be perceived as intimidat- did well. It makes you want to do it again."
ing by his young staffand increase their reluctance to assume I found that the investment in rewards and recogni-
initiative and control. Through the squirt-gun fights, how- tion made by many of these executives is unusually high,
ever, he was able to (1) relieve a high level of tension and consuming a significant portion of their otherwise busy day.
restore some sense of control, (2) emphasize the importance Yet the payoff appeared high. In interviews, subordinates
of having fun in an otherwise tryingwork environment, and described these rewards as having an empowering impact
(3) direct subordinates' concerns away from his skills and on them.
other qualities that intimidated them. It was an effective To understand why some of these rewards proved to
management practice because 'le understood the context. be so successful, one must understand their organizational
In another setting, it might have been counter-productive. contexts. Insome cases, the organizationsstudied were quite
large, if not enormous. The size of these organizations did
2. The "I Make a Difference" Club: Rewarding and littleto develop in employees a sense of an "I"- let alone an
Encouraging in Visible and Personal Ways. The majorityof "I" that makes a difference. It was easy for organization
executives in the study rewarded the achievements of their members to feel lost in the hierarchy and for their achieve-
staffs by expressing personal praise and rewarding in highly ments to be invisible, for recognition not to be received for
visible and confidence-building ways. They believed that personal contributions. The study's executives countered
people appreciated recognition of their hard work and suc- this tendency by institutionalizinga reward system that pro-
cess. Rewards of high incentive value were particularly vided visibilityand recognition - for example, the "IMake a
important, especially those of personal recognition from Difference Club," presentations to the Board, and names
the leader. As Rosabeth Kanter notes, a sense of power dropped in speeches. Suddenly, you as a member of a large
comes ". . . when one has relativelyclose contact with spon- organization stood out - you were special.
sors (higher level people who confer approval, prestige, or Outstanding performance from each of the execu-
backing)."1"Combined with words of praise and positive tives' perspectives was also something of a necessity. All the
encouragement, such experiences become important executives had demanding goals to achieve. As such, they
sources of empowerment. had to tend to subordinates' sense of importance and con-
The executives in the study took several approaches tribution. They had to structure reward systems that would
to rewards.To rewardexceptional performance, one execu- keep people "pumped up" - that would ensure that their
tive established the "I Make a Difference Club." Eachyear, confidence and commitment would not be eroded by the
he selects two or three staff members to be recognized for pressures placed on them.
their excellence on the job. It is a very exclusive club, and
only the executive knows the eligibility rules, which are 3. "Praisingthe Troops":ExpressingConfidence. The
based on outstanding performance. Inductees are invited to empowering leaders in the study spent significant amounts
dinner in New York City but are not told beforehand that of time expressing their confidence in subordinates'abilities.
they are about to join the "I Make a Difference Club." They Moreover, they expressed their confidence throughout
arrive and meet with other staff members whom they each day - in speeches, in meetings, and casually in office
believe are there for a staffdinner. During dinner, everyone hallways. Bandura comments that "people who are per-
is asked to speak about what is going on in his or her part of suaded verbally that they possess the capabilities to master
the company. The old-timers speak first, followed by the given tasksare likely to mobilize greater sustained effort than
inductees (who are still unaware of their coming induction). if they harborself-doubts and dwell on personal deficiencies
Only after they have given their speeches are they informed when difficulties arise."12
that they have just joined the club. As one manager said, "It's
one of the most wonderful moments in life."


A quote from Irwin Federman, CEO of Monolithic It was an important tactic - one that made the
Memories, a highly successful high-tech company, captures branch managers feel special and important. It was also
the essence and power of a management practice that builds countercultural. As one executive told me, "Bob would go
on this process: out into the field to visit the operations, which was very
unusual for senior people in this industry."His visitsheight-
"Ifyou think about it, we love others not for who
ened the specialness that branch managers felt. In addition,
they are, but for how they make us feel. In order
Bob modeled self-confidence and personal success - an
to willinglyaccept the direction of another indi-
important tactic to build a sense of personal effectiveness
vidual,it must make you feel good to do so.. . . If
among subordinates.14
you believe what I'msaying, you cannot help but
I also watched Jack Eaton, president of a regional
come to the conclusion that those you have fol-
telephone company, praisehis employees in largecorporate
lowed passionately, gladly, zealously - have
gatherings, in executive council meetings, and in casual
made you feel like somebody. .. . Thisbusiness
encounters. He explained his philosophy:
of making another person feel good in the
unspectacular course of his daily comings and "I have a fundamental belief and trust in the
goings is, in my view, the very essence of ability and conscientiousness of others. I have a
p. "3
leadershi lot of good people. You can turn them loose, let
them feel good about their accomplish-
This proactive attitude is exemplified by Bob Jensen.
ments.... You ought to recognize accomplish-
Bob assumed control of his bank's retail operations after a
ment as well as build confidence. Igenerally do it
reorganization that transferredaway the division's responsi-
in small ways. Ifsomeone is doing well, it'simpor-
bilityfor large corporate clients. Demoralized by a perceived
tant to express your confidence to thatperson-
loss in status and responsibility,branch managers were soon
especially among his peers. I tend to do it per-
asking, "Where's our recognition?" Bob, however, devel-
sonally. I tryto be genuine. I don't throw around
oped an inspiringstrategicvision to transformthe operation.
a lot of b.s."
He then spent much of his time championing his strategy
and expressing his confidence in employees' abilityto carry This practice proved especially important during the transi-
it out. Most impressive was his personal canvassof some 175 tion of the regional phone companies away from the parent
retail branches. organization.
As he explained,
"I saw that the branch system was very down, 4. "Presidentof My Own Bank":FosteringInitiative
and Responsibility.Discretion is a criticalpower component
morale was low. They felt like they'd lost a lot of
of any job.15Bysimplyfostering greater initiativeand respon-
their power. There were serious problems and a
sibilityin subordinates' tasks,a leader can empower organi-
lot of staff were just hiding. What I saw was that
zational members. Bob Jensen, the bank executive, is an
we really wanted to create a smallcommunity for
excellent example of how one leader created opportunities
each branch where customers would feel known.
for greater initiativedespite the confines of his subordinates'
To do that, I needed to create an attitude change.
positions. He transformed what had been a highly con-
I saw that the attitudes of the branch staff were a
stricted branch manager's job into a branch "president"
reflection of the branch manager. The approach
concept. The idea was simple - every manager was made to
then was a manageable job now I had to focus
feel like the president of his own community bank, and not
on only 250 people, the branch managers, rather
just in title. Goals, compensation, and responsibilitieswere
than the 3,000 staffemployees out there. I knew I
all changed to foster this attitude. Existing measurement
had to change their mentality from being lost in a
systems were completely restructured.The value-of-funds-
bureaucracy to feeling like the president of their
generated had been the principal yardstick- something
own bank. I had to convince them they were
over which branch managers had only very limited control
special - that they had the power to transform
because of interest rate fluctuations. Managers were now
the organization.... All Idid was talkit up. I was
evaluated on what they could control - that is, deposits.
up every night. In one morning, I hit 17branches.
Before, branch managers had rotated every couple of years.
My goal was to sell a new attitude. To encourage Now they stayed put. "If I'm moving around, then I'm not
people to 'pump iron.' I'd say, 'Hi, how's busi- the president of my own bank, so we didn't move them
ness?', encourage them. I'd arrange tours of the
anymore," Jensen explained. He also decentralized respon-
branches for the chairmanon down. Ijust spent a
sibilitiesthat had resided higher in the hierarchy- allowing
lot of time talking to these people - explaining
the branch manager to hire, give money to charities,and so
that they were the ones who could transformthe
on. In addition, a new ad agency was hired to mark the
organization." occasion, and TVads were made showing the branch man-
agers being in charge, rendering personal services them-
selves. The branch managers even thought up the ad lines.

Leadership: The Art of Empowering Others

What Jensen did so skillfullywas recognize that his 5. EarlyVictories: Building on Success. Many of the
existing managers had the talent and energy to turn their executives in the study reported that they often introduced
operations around successfully, but that their sense of power organizational change through pilot or otherwise small and
was missing. He recognized their pride had been hurt and manageable projects. They designed these projects to
that he needed to restore a sense of ownership and self- ensure early success for their organizations. For example,
importance. He had to convince his managers through instead of introducing a new sales structure nationwide, they
increased authoritythat they were no longer "pawns"of the would institute the change in one region; a new technology
system - that they were indeed "presidents" of their own would have a pilot introduction at a single plant ratherthan
banks. systemwide. Subordinates described these early success
Another example - this one demonstrating a more experiences as strongly reinforcing their sense of power and
informaldelegation of initiative- was quite surprising.The efficacy. As Mike Beer argues:
setting was a highly successful and rapidlygrowing computer
firm, and the study participant was the vice-president of "In order for change to spread throughout an
manufacturing.The vice-president had recently been hired organization and become a permanent fixture,it
away from another firmand was in the process of revamping appears that early successes are needed....
manufacturing. During the process, he discovered that his When individuals, groups, and whole organiza-
company's costs on its terminal video monitors were quite tions feel more competent than they did before
high. However, he wanted his staff to discover the problem the change, this increased sense of competence
for themselves and to "own" the solution. So one day, he reinforces the new behavior and solidifies learn-
placed behind his desk a black-and-white Sony TV with a ing associated with change."17
placard on top saying $69.95. Next to it he placed a stripped- An individual'ssense of masterythrough actual expe-
down version of the company's monitor with a placard of rience is the most effective means of increasing self-
$125.95. Both placards reflected the actual costs of the two efficacy.18When subordinates are given more complex and
products. He never said a word. But during the day as staff difficult tasks, they are presented with opportunities to test
and department managers entered their boss's office, they their competence. Initial success experiences will make
couldn't help but notice the two sets. They quickly got the them feel more capable and, in turn, empowered. Structur-
message that their monitor was costing twice as much as a ing organizational changes to ensure initialsuccesses builds
finished TV set. Within a month, the manufacturing team on this principle.
had lowered the monitor's costs by 40%.
My firstimpression on hearing this story was that, as a
subordinate, I would be hard pressed not to get the point Contexts of Powerlessness
and, more important, I would wonder why the boss was not
more direct. Ironically,the boss appears to be hitting subor- The need to empower organizational members be-
dinates over the head with the problem. Out of context, comes more important in certain contexts. Thus, it is impor-
then, this example hardly seems to make others feel more tant to identify conditions within organizations that might
competent and powerful. Yet staff described themselves as foster a sense of powerlessness. Certain circumstances, for
"turned on" and motivated by this behavior. Why, I won- instance, appear to lower feelings of self-efficacy. In these
dered? A little history will illustratethe effectiveness of this cases, subordinates typically perceive themselves as lacking
action. control over their immediate situation (e.g., a majorreorgan-
The vice-president's predecessor had been a highly ization threatens to displace responsibility and involves
dictatorial individual. He tightly controlled his staff'sactions limited or no subordinate participation),19or lacking the
and stifled any sense of discretion. Implicitly, his behavior required capability, resources, or discretion needed to
said to subordinates, "You have no ideas of your own." He accomplish a task (e.g., the development of new and
fired freely, leaving staff to feel that they had little choice in difficult-to-learn skillsfor the introduction of a new techno-
whether to accept his orders or not. By his actions, he essen- logical process).20In either case, these experiences maximize
tiallytransformed his managers into powerless order-takers. feelings of inadequacy and lower self-confidence. They, in
When the new vice-president arrived, he found a turn, appear to lessen motivation and effectiveness.
group of demoralized subordinateswhom he felt were none- Exhibit1 identifies the more common organizational
theless quite talented. To restore initiative, he began to factors that affect these self-efficacy or personal power
demonstrate the seriousness of his intentions in highly visible beliefs and contribute to feelings of powerlessness. They
and symbolic ways. Forexample, ratherthan tell his subordi- include organizationalfactors,supervisorystyles, rewardsys-
nates what to do, he started by seeding ideas and suggestions tems, and job design.
in humorous and indirect ways. The TV monitor is only one
of many examples. Through these actions, he was able even-
tually to restore a sense of initiative and personal compe-
tence to his staff. While these examples are illustrativeof
effective changes in job design, managerscontemplating job
enrichment would be well advised to consult the existing
literatureand research before undertaking majorprojects.16


In new venture situations, uncertaintyoften appears

Exhibit1 around the ultimate success of the company's strategy. A
Context FactorsLeading to Potential State of Powerlessness major role for leaders is to build an inspiringpicture of the
firm'sfuture and convince organizational members of their
abilityto achieve that future. Yet, marketlead times are often
Organizational Factors:
long, and tangible resultsmay be slow in coming. Longwork
hours with few immediate rewardscan diminish confidence.
Significantorganizational changes/transitions
Frustrationcan build, and questions about the organization's
future can arise. In addition, the start-up's success and
Excessive,competitive pressures
responses to growth can mean constant change in responsi-
Impersonal bureaucraticclimate
bility, pushing managers into responsibilities where they
Poor communications and limited network-forming systems
have had little prior experience; thus, failure may be expe-
Highly centralized organizational resources
rienced initially as new responsibilities are learned. Entre-
preneurial executives may be reluctant to relinquish their
control as expansion continues.
Bureaucraticenvironments are especially conducive
Authoritarian(high control)
to creating conditions of powerlessness. As Peter Block
Negativism (emphasis on failures)
points out, bureaucracy encourages dependency and sub-
Lackof reason for actions/consequences
mission because of its top-down contract between the
organization and employees.2" Rules, routines, and tradi-
Reward Systems:
tions define what can and cannot be done, allowing little
room for initiative and discretion to develop. Employees'
Noncontingency (arbitraryreward allocations)
behavior is often guided by rules over which they have no
Low incentive value of rewards
say and which may no longer be effective, given the present-
Lackof competence-based rewards
day context.
Lackof innovation-based rewards
From the standpoint of supervision, authoritarian
management styles can strip away subordinates' discretion
Job Design:
and, in turn, a sense of powe.r. Under an authoritarianman-
ager, subordinates inevitablycome to believe that they have
Lackof role clarity little control - that they and their careers are subject to the
Lackof training and technical support whims or demands of their boss. The problem becomes
Unrealisticgoals acute when capable subordinates begin to attribute their
Lackof appropriate authority/discretion
powerlessness to internalfactors,such as their own personal
Low task variety
competence, rather than to external factors, such as the
Limitedparticipationin programs, meetings, and decisions nature of the boss's temperament.
that have a direct impact on job performance Rewardsare another criticalarea for empowerment.
Lackof appropriate/necessary resources Organizations that do not provide valued rewardsor simply
Lackof networking-forming opportunities do not reward employees for initiative, competence, and
Highly established work routines innovation are creating conditions of powerlessness. Finally,
Too many rules and guidelines jobs with little meaningful challenge, or jobs where the task
Low advancement opportunities is unclear, conflicting, or excessively demanding can lower
Lackof meaningful goals/tasks employees' sense of self-efficacy.
Limitedcontact with senior management

Source: Adapted from J. A. Conger and R. N. Kanungo, "The Empower-

ment Process: IntegratingTheory and Practice."Academy of Management Implications for Managers
Review, July1988.
Managers can think of the empowerment process as
For example, during a major organizational change,
involving several stages.22Managers might want to begin by
goals may change - often dramatically- to respond to the
identifying for themselves whether any of the organizational
organization's new direction. Rules may no longer be clearly
problems and characteristics described in this article are
defined as the firm seeks new guidelines for action. Respon-
present in their own firms. In addition, managers assuming
sibilities may be dramaticallyaltered. Power alliances may
new responsibilitiesshould conduct an organizationaldiag-
shift, leaving parts of the organization with a perceived loss
nosis that clearly identifies their current situation,and possi-
of power or increasing political activity. Certain functional
ble problems and their causes. Attention should be aimed at
areas, divisions, or acquired companies may experience dis-
understandingthe recent historyof the organization. Impor-
enfranchisement as their responsibilitiesare felt to be dimin-
tant questions to ask would be: What was my predecessor's
ished or made subordinate to others. As a result,employees'
sense of competence may be seriously challenged as they supervisory style? Has there been a recent organizational
change that negatively affected my subordinates?How is my
face having to accept and acquire new responsibilities,skills,
and management practices as well as deal with the uncer-
tainty of their future.

Leadership: The Art of Empowering Others


Stages of the Empowerment Process

Conditions leading Empowering Providingself-efficacy

to a psychological _ _ _ _managerial _ information removing
state of powerlessness practices conditions of powerlessness
(see Exhibit1)

Results in empowering Leadsto initiation/

experience in motivation/persistence
subordinates to accomplish tasks

Source: Adapted from J.A. Congerand R. N. Kanungo,"The EmpowermentProcess: IntegratingTheory and Practice,"Academyof Management Review, July1988.

operation perceived by the restof the corporation? Isthere a Finally,although it is not as apparent in the examples
sense of disenfranchisement? Am I planning to change sig- themselves, each of the study executives set challenging and
nificantlythe outlook of this operation that would challenge appealing goals for their organizations. This is a necessary
traditionalways of doing things? How are people rewarded? component of effective and empowering leadership. Ifgoals
Are jobs designed to be motivating? are not perceived as appealing, it is difficult to empower
Once conditions contributing to feelings of power- managers in a larger sense. As Warren Bennis and Burt
lessness are identified, the managerialpractices identified in Nanus argue: "Great leaders often inspire their followers to
this article and in the management literaturecan be used to high levels of achievement by showing them how their work
provide self-efficacy information to subordinates. This in- contributes to worthwhile ends. It is an emotional appeal to
formation in turn can result in an empowering experience some of the most fundamental needs - the need to be
for subordinates and may ultimatelylead to greater initiative, important, to make a difference, to feel useful, to be partof a
motivation, and persistence. successful and worthwhile enterprise."23Such goals go hand
However, in applying these practices, it is imperative in hand with empowering management practices. They
that managers tailor their actions to fit the context at hand. were and are an integral partof the empowerment process I
Forexample, in the case of an authoritarianpredecessor, you observed in the companies I studied.
are more likely to need praise and confidence-building
measures and greater opportunities for job discretion. With
demanding organizational goals and tasks, the practices of A Word of Caution
confidence building and active rewarding, an element of
play, and a supportive environment are perhaps most In closing, it is importantto add a note of caution. First
appropriate. The specific character of each practice must of all, empowerment is not the complete or always the
necessarilyvarysomewhat to fit your particularsituation. For appropriate answer to building the confidence of managers.
instance, what makes many of the previous examples so Itcan lead to overconfidence. A false sense of confidence in
important is that the executives responded with practices positive outcomes may lead employees and organizations to
that organizational members could relate to or that fit their persist in what may, in actuality, prove to be tactical errors.
character - for instance, the television and squirt-gun Thus, a system of checks and balances is needed. Managers
examples. Unfortunately, much of today's popular man- must constantly test reality and be alert to signs of "group
agement literatureprovides managers with tools to manage think."
their subordinates, yet few highlight the importance of Some managers may be incapable of empowering
matching the practice to the appropriatecontext. Empower- others. Theirown insecurities may prevent them from instill-
ing is not a pill; it is not simply a technique, as many work- ing a sense of power in subordinates. This is ironic, since
shops and articles would lead us to believe. Rather, to be often these are the individuals who need to develop such
truly effective it requires an understanding of subordinates skills. Yet, as Kanter argues, "Only those leaders who feel
and one's organizational context. secure about their own power outward . .. can see empow-
ering subordinates as a gain rather than a loss."24


Certain situations may not warrant empowerment. 5. See J. A. Conger and R. N. Kanungo, "The Empowerment Process:
For example, there are contexts where opportunities for Integrating Theory and Practice," Academy of Management Review, July
greater initiative or responsibility simply do not exist and, in 1988; and R. J. House, "Power and Personalityin Complex Organizations,"
in L.L.Cummings and B. M. Staw (Eds.),Research in Organizational Behav-
some cases, subordinates may be unwilling or unable to ior: An Annual Review of CriticalEssaysand Reviews, Vol. 10, Greenwich,
assume greater ownership or responsibility. As Lyman Por- CT: JAIPress, 1988. The author is grateful to Rabindra N. Kanungo for his
ter, EdwardLawler,and RichardHackman point out, research insights and help in conceptualizing the empowerment process.
"strongly suggests that only workers with reasonably high 6. See Conger and Kanungo, Endnote 5.
strength of desire for higher-order need satisfaction . .. will 7. A. Bandura, "Self-Efficiency:Toward a Unifying Theory of Behav-
ioral Change," Psychological Review, 1977, 84(2), pp. 191-215.
respond positively and productively to the opportunities 8. D. McGregor, The Human Side of Enterprise,New York: McGraw-
present in jobs which are high in meaning, autonomy, com- Hill, 1960.
plexity, and feedback."25Others may not have the requisite 9. See J. M. Beyer and H. M. Trice, "How an Organization's Rites
experience or knowledge to succeed. And those given more Reveal Its Culture," Organizational Dynamics, Spring 1987, pp. 4-25.
10. A. Bandura, Social Foundations of Thought and Action: A Social
than they are capable of handling may fail.The end resultwill Cognitive View, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1986.
be the opposite of what you are seeking - a sense of 11. See Kanter, Endnote 3, p. 66.
powerlessness. It is imperative that managers assess as accu- 12. See Bandura, Endnote 10, p. 400.
rately as possible their subordinates' capabilities before 13. W. Bennis and B. Nanus, Leaders, New York: Harper & Row, 1985,
pp. 64-65.
undertakingdifficultgoals and empowering them to achieve. 14. See Bandura, Endnote 10.
Second, certain of the empowerment practices de- 15. See Kanter, Endnote 3.
scribed in this article are not appropriate for all situations. For 16. See J. R. Hackman, "The Design of Work in the 1980s," Organiza-
example, managers of subordinates who require structure tional Dynamics, Summer 1978, pp. 3-17.
and direction are likely to find the example of the manager 17. M. Beer, Organizational Change and Development, SantaMonica,
CA: Goodyear, 1980, p. 64.
"seeding" ideas with the television set an ineffective prac- 18. See Bandura, Endnote 10.
tice. In the case of a pressing deadline or crisis,such seeding 19. F.M. Rothbaum, J.R. Weisz, and S. S. Snyder, "Changing the World
is inappropriate, given its longer time horizons. and Changing Self: ATwo Process Model of Perceived Control," Journalof
When staging playful or unconventional events, the Personality and Social Psychology, 1982, 42, pp. 5-37; and L.Y. Abramson,
context must be considered quite carefully. What signals are J. Garber, and M. E. P. Seligman, "Learned Helplessness in Humans: An
Attributional Analysis," in J. Garber and M. E. P. Seligman (Eds.),Human
you sending about yourself and your management philos- Helplessness: Theory and Applications, New York: Academic Press, 1980,
ophy? Like rewards, these events can be used to excess and pp. 3-34.
lose their meaning. It is imperative to determine the appro- 20. See Kanter, Endnote 2.
priateness and receptivity of such practices. You may inad- 21. See Block, Endnote 2.
22. See Conger and Kanungo, Endnote 5.
vertently mock or insult subordinates, peers, or superiors. 23. Bennis and Nanus, Endnote 13, p. 93.
In terms of expressing confidence and rewarding, 24. See Kanter, Endnote 3, p. 73.
both must be done sincerely and not to excess. Praisingfor 25. L.W. Porter, E.E.Lawler,and J.R. Hackman, Behavior in Organiza-
nonaccomplishments can make rewards meaningless. Sub- tions, New York: McGraw-Hill,1975, p. 306.
ordinates may suspect that the boss is simply flattering them 26. See N. M. Tichy and M. A. Devanna, The TransformationalLeader,
New York: John Wiley, 1986.
into working harder.
In general, however, empowerment practices are an
important tool for leaders in setting and achieving higher
goals and in moving an organization past difficult transi- Jay A. Conger is assistantprofessor of organizational
tions.26 But remember that they do demand time, confi- behavior on the faculty of management at McGill University
dence, an element of creativity, and a sensitivity to one's in Montreal. He received his BA in anthropology from
context to be effective. U Dartmouth College, his MBA at the University of Virginia,
and his DBA from the HarvardBusiness School. Priorto his
academic career, Professor Conger held a senior manage-
Endnotes ment position with a high-technology company. He actively
trainsand consults with managers from Fortune500 corpora-
1. See, for example, J. P. Kotter, Power in Management, New York: tions in both the United States and abroad.
AMACOM, 1979, and J. Pfeffer, Power in Organizations, Marshfield, MA: Professor Conger has written articlesforjournals such
2. See P. Block, The Empowered Manager, San Francisco:Jossey-Bass,
as the Academy of Management Review, as well as numer-
1987;W. W. Burke,"Leadershipas EmpoweringOthers," in S. Srivastva(Ed.), ous book chapters. His most recent book is Charismatic
Executive Power, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1986, pp. 51-77; and R. M. Leadership, coauthored with Professor Rabindra Kanungo,
Kanter,The Change Masters, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1983. published by Jossey-Bass in 1988. His research interests
3. W. Bennis and B. Nanus, Leaders, New York: Harper & Row, 1985; include executive leadership, charismatic leadership, em-
and R. M. Kanter,"Power Failurein Management Circuits,"HarvardBusi-
ness Review, July-August 1979, pp. 65-75. powerment processes, and the management of change.
4. See Kanter,Endnote 3; and A. S. Tannenbaum, Control in Organiza-
tions, New York: McGraw-Hill,1968.

Leadership- the art of empowering others
Please select the right options and use the excel sheet (link available at vulms) as your
solution file.

1. Jackson was able to achieve which of the following purpose through squirt-gun
A. To find out the best shooter
B. To relieve a high level of tension
C. To eliminate employees boredom
D. To recognize the high performers

2. In this article, which of the following practice was recognized to reward

exceptional performance?
A. Praising the troops
B. Squirt-gun fights
C. I make a difference club
D. Giving star of the month award

3. Which of the following organizational structure is required for the employees’

A. Bureaucratic structure
B. Organic structure
C. Mechanistic structure
D. Matrix structure

4. The subordinates of an authoritarian manager believe:

A. They have more control
B. They have little control
C. They have ‘say’ in management decisions
D. They vote on the best course of action in a project

5. In his role as bank executive, Bob Jensen exhibits all of the following functions
for empowerment EXCEPT:
A. Decentralized responsibilities
B. Allowed managers more control
C. Acted in his own best interests
D. Engaged in unconventional behaviors

6. Too many formalities and low task variety leads to:

A. Sense of powerlessness
B. Sense of satisfaction
C. Sense of independence
D. Sense of power
7. Empowerment may NOT be appropriate for enterprises with:
A. Wide span of control
B. High labors turn over
C. Cross-hierarchal teams
D. Open communication system

8. Which of the following empowering management practice can be most likely

used to increase the performance of different branches of a national company
located in different areas of country?
A. Delegating powers to the head of branches
B. Centralizing powers to the CEO
C. Creating sense of belongingness
D. Praising the employees performance

9. Which of the following statement is true regarding the achievement-oriented

A. Give specific guidance as to how to accomplish tasks
B. Show concern for the needs of followers and friendly behavior
C. Set challenging goals and expect followers to perform at their highest
D. Consult with followers and use their suggestions before making a decision

10. Empowerment in itself is a macro approach which of the following is the part of
this approach?
A. Participative management and employees’ involvement
B. Directive management and employees’ support
C. Situational management and limited employees’ involvement
D. Autocratic management and no employee involvement

11. Empowerment is a process of sharing with front-line employees which of the

following organizational ingredient(s)?
A. Knowledge
B. Information
C. Power and reward
D. All of the above mentioned options

12. Which of the following can be the obstacles in implementing empowerment?

A. Failure to respond employee recommendation
B. Existence of open communication system
C. Availability of Management attention
D. Understanding of training and feedback

13. Employees’ empowerment is a key to:

A. Intrinsic motivation
B. Extrinsic motivation
C. Self motivation
D. Unconscious motivation

14. Which of the following power is used by the senior executives who communicate
to large groups, represent the organization visibly in the exterior world, define
stands on issues, provide leadership to task and problem solving teams, engage
in and win battles around issues with organizational peers?
A. Personality power
B. Coercive power
C. Expert power
D. Referent power

15. The de-emphasis of hierarchical authority and control in organizational

development is referred to as:
A. Participation
B. Power equalization
C. Trust and support
D. Respect for people

16. According to this article, which of the following is most likely to be the next step
after identifying the conditions that are cause of creating feelings of
A. To allow autonomy for the completion of tasks
B. To praise and provide motivation to subordinates
C. To provide self efficacy information to subordinates
D. To implement empowering experiences and practices

17. “Great leaders often inspire their followers to high levels of achievement by
showing them how their work contributes to the worth while ends”, is stated by:
A. Bill Jackson
B. Alferd Bandura
C. Rosabeth Kanter
D. Warrin Bennis & Burt Nanus

18. All of the below mentioned organizational factors lead to feelings of lacking
power; EXCEPT:
A. Centralized organizational structure
B. Excessive competition pressures
C. Poor communication system
D. Competence-based reward system

19. For a supportive and empowering manager, which of the following skills are
more appropriate to sustain his organization’s foundation?
A. Planning, organizing, leading and controlling
B. Facilitating, consulting, collaborating, and supporting
C. Technical, mechanical, experimental and administrative
D. Multicultural, manipulation, operational and controlling
20. Based on the knowledge gained from reading this article, suppose if you are
appointed as manager operation in a bank, where you find demoralized
employees because ex-manager style was autocratic; he was used to dictate his
own ideas and discouraged employees’ participation. In this scenario what do
you think which of the following step is immediately required to be taken?
A. Increase the fringe benefits of employees
B. Reward high performance employees
C. Introduce participative management style
D. Establish formalized rules and procedures