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The unlikely link between authority and empowerment

3 min read


I’ve been talking to a budding author recently. He’s in his 20s and very likely to land a book deal here soon. He told me he started repeating in the shower every morning, “I’m an expert. I’m an expert. I’m an expert.”

It’s as if he’s trying to catch up mentally with his accomplishment.

The word authority gets a bad rap.

It got me thinking about the word author, and the related words authorship, and then authority. In some cases the word “authority” has a negative connotation, as in use of force, command, or a “my way or the highwaymentality. The authorities might come for me if I use the word in an empowering way.

Owning your authority=empowerment.

At the same time there are positive and legitimate meanings for authority, like influence, mastery, and esteemFrom this perspective, I might say to my author friend, “Who is the expert on your book if you aren’t? Who is the authority on the content of your book?!”

Is he the all-knowing, all-encompassing authority on his subject? Maybe not, but he is an authority on his experience of his subject.

Just like you. You are an authority on your own experience of your career, family and life – your aspirations, your legacy – you get the picture.

In my work I use this definition of empowerment with my clients: self-permission to claim authority of your values, dreams, choices, actions and, ultimately, your impact.

If you don’t do it, who will?

So, that dream you have, whether it’s to manage people, to get promoted, to take your big idea from seed to reality, to fulfill a vision, who is going to do it, if not you? I hear too many people say (and I experience this myself), “Who am I to do this?

Who are you NOT to do this? Give yourself permission. Ultimately, you are the only one who can. This is true empowerment.

A challenge to you as a leader

Ultimately empowerment is not something you give someone, but you can create an environment that supports it. How do you inspire this type of empowerment and “authority” in your own charges?

Mary C. Schaefer is a coach, trainer and consultant specializing in creating manager-employee interaction breakthroughs and work cultures where both organizations and human beings thrive. Connect with Schaefer via her EmpoweredManagers blog or on Twitter @MarySchaefer.