Unpacking Empowerment: A “6 Stages” Approach

Have you ever been “voluntold?”  Or perhaps you felt as though you had to force team members to “get on board” with an initiative?  There may be a better approach…

48488869 - successful woman with arms up celebrating
Image source: 123rf.com

In the age of highly effective teams and maximization of productivity and collaboration, empowerment is a word that gets tossed around quite often.  I was really curious about how this term is defined, so I visited businessdictionary.com and found the following explanation for empowerment:

“A management practice of sharing information, rewards, and power with employees so that they can take initiative and make decisions to solve problems and improve service and performance.

Empowerment is based on the idea that giving employees skills, resources, authority, opportunity, motivation, as well as holding them responsible and accountable for outcomes of their actions, will contribute to their competence and satisfaction.”

According to these parameters, empowerment is actually a practice and an idea.  But what if it was an action?  Predicated on establishing a deep understanding of your team members? What I mean is this: I believe it requires a certain framework or process of actions in order to even get to a point where you can empower others.

In the book, The 6 Stages of Cultural Mastery, author Ricardo González takes leaders through this journey.  The theory of the text posits that in order to truly reach endearment (the final stage), you must first work through the following stages:

  1. Education
  2. Engagement
  3. Empathy
  4. Excitement
  5. Empowerment

I found a great deal of validity in this process; after all, it has been working to enact higher levels of creativity, collaboration and creation in top companies for years, as the author shares throughout the book.

Says González, “We cannot lead people to the highest levels until we know them at the deepest levels.”

So how do you get there?  Here are some tangible actions you can take to actually start empowering others.  Remember, true empowerment is not about delegation or telling someone what they must do.  Empowerment is grown from a relationship built on educating yourself about the person, engagement, empathy and excitement for a common vision.

  • Support, support and…support! If you want to develop a culture of empowerment purposefully, it begins with what you model. Get some skin in the game and be willing to be part of the team. The more you are involved and creating a positive culture of teaming, you are increasing morale and trust. In turn, it decreases the likelihood of having negative team members who become influencers.
  • Targeted and specific feedback:  If there is an area a team member needs improvement to make a greater impact, be specific and targeted with one key lever.  The phrase “Do less better” is a good rule of thumb when selecting areas of coaching.  Likewise, be sure to offer targeted and specific praise! Kim Marshall has authored books and developed multiple tools for conducting mini-observations (school-based approach).  He shares this methodology in a great podcast here.
  • Employee-led professional development: This requires you to know your team’s talents very well and be able to bring them alongside you in collaboration.  Be strategic about your selection and identify personnel whose data consistently shows growth because of their practices. Select high-leverage practices for development that, if implemented across the organization, would have a huge impact on results and retention.
  • Peer observation: Make time and space for teams to see one another in action.  If they see something that improves practice, it will likely show up in their own practice.  Create a structured protocol that helps team members identify what practice they observed, its impact upon daily productivity, as well as a plan for implementation into their own practice. This action also requires a deeper level of trust between your staff members.

Empowerment within your organization does not happen by coincidence.  Developing effective and energized teams is hard work.  It starts with the right people (leaders, managers, employees, support personnel) honoring one another.  This means working to understand where each other comes from, why each person thinks as they do and what we all have in common in order to move the team forward to better serve clients.


Justine González is a former elementary and high school turnaround administrator and teacher.  She is the Founder and Principal Consultant of Educator Aide, a company specializing in school transformation through cultural mastery.  Educator Aide is an exclusive partner company to The 6 Stages Group.


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