Thanks for this exploration of empowerment, Sabrina. I’ve also been on my own quest to unpack this term. Peter Block sums it up well I think: “Conversations about empowerment always seem to turn to a discussion of how we are going to change other people.”
However, it seems you are suggesting that if we change the power structures of our organisation (e.g. creating a self-managing system), people “can choose to emancipate in order to become agents of their own empowerment.” What I’m learning is that changing the structure is not enough — we’ve inherited and integrated so many ways of being and relating since the Industrial Era that even if you change the structure, those who previously had power (e.g. managers) aren’t fully aware of the unconscious power or influence they exude, and those who previously didn’t have power (e.g. non-managers) aren’t used to having power in a work context and very often don’t step into it even when the ‘permission’ or ‘invitation’ is there (which is often mistaken for them not wanting to step in). I’m finding Simon Mont’s work very helpful here, particularly this more recent piece, where he writes:
‘We may understand the idea of a system where every member is empowered to contribute their unique talents, but trying to live it brings us into an amount of complexity that no book or article can fully capture: We quickly realize that we each need different types of support in order to fully show up, and some of this has to do with personal history and systemic oppression; we constantly project our conditioned beliefs about what each other are capable of, and we are impacted by each others projections; we often feel threatened by folks with similar skills; we have been trained to value different skills differently; we’ve even been trained to see some people as more worthy of human dignity than others. All of these currents (and more) influence whether people will actually bring their skills in practice. Until we learn how to navigate this cultural and relational terrain, promises like “everyone will utilize their unique talents” will remain unfulfilled.’
I’d love to know what you’ve discovered in your work about the ‘being’ part of self-managing organisations — what do we as human beings need to learn and unlearn?