Why & How to Empower Employees

Should you empower employees? Only if you want to build a nimble business. Let me explain.

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My professional journey began with the dawning of the 1980s. And what a volatile time it was!

For example, history records that the U.S. inflation rate peaked at 14.76% in April 1980. Correspondingly, the Fed Fund Interest rate skyrocketed to an almost unbelievable TWENTY PERCENT that same year!

By 1982, the United States was mired in the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Massive numbers of businesses, farms, and homes were lost due to default or foreclosure.

Unemployment soared to a national average of 10.8%, with some individual states exceeding a 16% unemployment rate. And just when it looked like things couldn’t get any worse — they did!

In 1987, the world’s financial barometer — the U.S. stock market — it crashed, and with it, exporting fear and uncertainty around the globe.

And that’s the period in which yours truly — Phillip Van Hooser — began his supervisory, then managerial career.

Opportunities Out of Mayhem

Interestingly, I learned that even in the midst of business misfortune and professional mayhem opportunities to learn and grow, still exist.

Fortunately, forward-looking leaders existed then, as now. Leaders committed to not only surviving perilous times — but to building sustainable businesses, prepared and equipped to thrive in any business environment. But building versatile, adaptable, responsive businesses requires enlisting and harvesting the creativity, imagination, and brain power of every employee — at every level.

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In many ways, the economic desperation of the 1980s provided a much-needed, long-overdue jump start to empowering employees as never before.

Understanding Power & Empowerment

To fully understand the concept of empowerment, one must begin by accepting — POWER — the root word from which empowerment is derived.

Consider this definition.

Power in practice is essentially the ability to grant, withhold or withdraw something someone wants or needs.

Simply put, if someone must ask your permission — you have the power to grant, withhold or withdraw that which is being requested. Of course, there’s more — much more — that could be said about the proper — and improper — use of power. But today our focus is EMPOWERMENT.

So consider this related definition.

Empowerment is the practical process of willingly and knowingly — granting one’s official power to another.

The Key to Empower Employees

Forward-thinking leaders are quick to recognize the many benefits associated with empowered employees.

But many don’t know where to start. And others still wonder if “the squeeze is worth the juice.”

At the heart of any successful empowerment initiative is trust. Before you, me, or anyone — can freely empower another, we must trust the person’s level of commitment to be consistent with our own.

We must trust the person to be adequately educated, trained, skilled, and motivated to make and implement quality decisions.

And we must trust that the person’s objectives are rightly aligned with those of the organization. If and when sufficient levels of trust are established, empowerment can become a reality.

However, if or when trust is absent — empowerment is more a mental exercise than a practical reality. 

How to Get Started

So how can you get from here to there?


Enlightened leaders seek out opportunities to PREPARE those around them.

Once adequately prepared, enlightened leaders willingly SHARE their vested power with individuals mentally and emotionally ready to accept the challenges ahead.

Finally, once the power has been shared, enlightened leaders proudly and definitively DECLARE their support and confidence in their trusted — and now empowered — employees.

I once heard someone say that “tough times don’t last — but tough people do.”

The 1980s taught me something different.

I learned the tougher the times, the more necessary to empower employees.

Power. Trust. Preparation. Communication. Empowerment. These are concepts leaders should know — and practice.

Helping You Empower Your People Is What We Do. Let’s Get Started!

Photo by ThisIsEngineering

Phillip Van Hooser

Phillip Van Hooser, CSP, CPAE, Founder & Chair, Van Hooser Leadership. A seasoned leadership expert, keynote speaker, and author, Phillip Van Hooser is passionate about developing intentional leaders who can effectively engage and empower their employees to deliver powerful results. His most recent book is “Earning The Right To Be Heard," a primer for creating greater influence and opportunities. Connect with Phil on LinkedIn.


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