When things are always the same, we can and do develop stable hierarchies in which people do highly repetitive work. In today’s world things seldom stay the same. Organizations are regularly hit with big changes and people need to adapt.
Adaptation requires us to be externally open. We need to learn new ways of organizing, new ways to behave and relate. This kind of adaptive change is typically resisted. We want to avoid the vulnerability and anxiety. We become closed.
As a result of our resistance, we come to feel disempowered. We blame others for the fact that we feel disempowered. When this happens managers often speak of the need to empower the people. The assumption managers make is that they need to empower us by telling us we are empowered. This does not work.
When a manager tells us that we are empowered, the act of telling simply demonstrates that we have no power. The only way for us to become empowered is to take the risk of empowering ourselves. Managers simply cannot create empowered units. Leaders can.
Leaders do not focus on empowering us. They seek instead to build a culture where a critical mass of people will be enticed to take the risk to empower themselves. Leaders do this by asking us questions instead of giving answers. They refuse to play the expert role we expect them to play. They refuse to take responsibility for decisions we need to make. Instead of creating comfort, they bring challenges and require that we make our own decisions.
In order to make decisions, we have to become externally open. When many people empower themselves the organization has an increased probability that it will begin to flourish. It is only a probability because other things must also be in place to support the process.