Some managers don’t like the idea of empowering people. They fear a loss of authority, power, and control. They also fear competition when subordinates become more knowledgeable than their own managers. And finally, after empowering their subordinates, managers fear there is nothing left for them to do, which makes them feel redundant. (This is particularly a problem in an economical downturn, when organizations need to cut jobs, and top management is looking for dispensable people.) When managers feel insecure about their jobs they hang on harder to their power and position, reluctant to share it with (what they perceive as) competitors.
Here's an important message for these managers:
Giving power to your people does not diminish your own power. Quite the reverse. It is more likely to increase it.
The power and status you have in an organization is a function of the power and status of the people you are leading. Consider this: What sounds more interesting and powerful to you? Leading a team of industry veterans, who are building a high-quality system that knocks people off their feet? Or leading a group of interns, fresh from school and wet behind the ears, building a system so bad it knocks your brain out? I’m quite sure that being the manager of the celebrity team means you have a much higher status in the eyes of many. The better your team, the bigger your power. And to make your team better, you empower them.
The only way to make yourself indispensable is to make yourself dispensable. – John C. Maxwell
A complex system is often not a zero sum game. Making poor countries wealthier does not diminish the wealth in rich countries. The European settlers in the Wild West of America did not steal jobs from Native Americans. (Though they stole plenty of other things, I’m afraid.) And my “social capital” on Twitter and LinkedIn does not decrease when I compliment or recommend any of my friends or contacts. On the contrary, my on-line social standing depends on my support for others.
If you find yourself in a position where you fear for the loss of power, control, and maybe even your job, consider this: I invest in other people’s social capital because it increases my own. And I believe in migration of work to poor countries because it creates other and better jobs at home. And I believe you must empower people because it will increase your own status in the organization. Don't forget, we call them complex systems because situations are never as simple as people think, and often quite paradoxical.
Oh, and from personal experience I can tell you that top management usually doesn’t fire managers of empowered teams. They are more likely to fire the ones responsible for unmanageable systems. And, of course, the ones that had their brains knocked out.