By Kent Mulkey

I never really liked the word “empowerment.”

It seems to be a hot buzzword in today’s business world. Everybody is talking about empowering employees, as if I as a leader have the power to do so.

I don’t.

People show up on the job engaged and empowered. Then what happens? Rules, policies, and a less-than-positive culture begin to limit people. People shut down, keep their head down, and just get through the day. It’s sad to see the power drain out of people over time.

I work with one of the most amazing teams of five directors in my organization. They show up full of power and strength. They are motivated, engaged, and ready to make a splash in the organization. Each one is a professional, with many years of experience and success. They are accountable (another buzzword for another day). They are empowered!

So, what then is empowerment in an alternate parlance? It means to believe in people, to support them by going to the wall for them, to ensure they are equipped with the tools and resources they need to do their job.

It means giving people autonomy, tapping into their own sense of power.

The company I work for has identified empowerment as one of its core values. I have come to like it and embrace it. Why? Because of what I have wrestled with around what the word means. It was tough for me to shed my bias against empowerment as a buzzword.

We don’t give people power; we can help uncover it and celebrate it. As Alden Mills explains in Unstoppable Teams, we all come to work with a soul-driven willingness and readiness to be a part of something greater than ourselves.

It takes power to make a difference.