Biographers universally agree that personal insecurity factored heavily in the downfall of former American President Richard Nixon. Rather than empowering others, President Nixon clutched at power so tightly that he lost all sense of morality and ethics. Obsessively fearing his critics, Nixon authorized a domestic espionage group to spy on his political opponents. When members of the group were caught burglarizing the Watergate Hotel, Nixon tried unsuccessfully to cover up the incident. Eventually he resigned in shame, having left a dubious legacy of scandal.
Nixon’s behavior in office violated the Law of Empowerment: Only Secure Leaders Give Power to Others.
Today, at a time when managers must do more with less – less people, less budget, less margin for error – leaders have no choice but to empower followers to share the load. Insecurity simply isn’t compatible with survival. Even so, human nature resists empowerment. Let’s look at three common tendencies that make empowerment a tricky task.
Three Obstacles to Empowerment
1) Desire for Job Security
The number one enemy of empowerment is the desire for job security. Weak leaders worry that they will become expendable if they train up talented subordinates. As a result, they retain a monopoly on select knowledge in the hopes of positioning themselves as irreplaceable. Some misguided leaders even go as far as undercutting those they perceive as potential rivals. Not wanting to be surpassed, they intentionally make others look bad from time to time.
Insecure leaders who prize job security are fiercely territorial. They stake out their turf and refuse to delegate. They want to be the go-to-guys so badly that they may senselessly refuse to train and empower others who could offer them assistance.
The truth is that the only way to make yourself indispensable is to make yourself dispensable. In other words, if you are continually able to empower others and develop them so that they become capable of taking over your job, then you will become so valuable to the organization that you become indispensable.
2) Resistance to Change
Nobel Prize-winning author John Steinbeck asserted, “It is the nature of man as he grows older to protect against change, particularly change for the better.” By its very nature, empowerment brings constant change in that it encourages people to grow and innovate. Change is the price of progress.
Insecure leaders view change as a threat rather than an opportunity. They fear change rather than inviting it. As a consequence, insecure leaders have been known to act coldly toward newcomers. They cling to the established order and generally resent anyone who may disrupt it. Instead of empowering incoming personnel, they avoid working with them.
3) Lack of Self-Worth
Many people derive personal value and esteem from their title or position. When either is threatened, they feel as if their self-worth is under assault. Accordingly, they will firmly resist anyone or anything that could reduce their status.
On the other hand, author Buck Rogers says, “To those who have confidence in themselves, change is a stimulus because they believe one person can make a difference and influence what goes on around them. These people are the doers and the motivators.” They are also the empowerers.
Enlarging others makes you larger. The purpose of power is to be distributed, not hoarded, but only secure leaders are able to give their power away. Recognize and resist the natural inclinations to keep a tight grip on power. In the long run, you’ll be rewarded for letting go.
I’ll close with a quotation on empowerment from decorated war hero and former vice presidential candidate, James B. Stockdale:
“Leadership must be based on goodwill… It means obvious and wholehearted commitment to helping followers… What we need for leaders are men of heart who are so helpful that they, in effect, do away with the need of their jobs. But leaders like that are never out of a job, never out of followers. Strange as it sounds, great leaders gain authority by giving it away.”