Power and empowerment

Edmund Burke 1729-1797

“Do the thing and you will have the power. But they that do not the thing – had not the power”.

In the style of  Michel Foucault building on Niccolò Machiavelli, I take social power to be the state of an individual which can be applied to enable the mobilisation of actions. It can be taken to be similar to the state of energy of a material which enables, by its release, the doing of work.

  • Social power is the ability to mobilise actions.
  • The exercise of power is the mobilisation of actions.
  • The proper exercise of power is the mobilisation of the necessary and sufficient actions for a particular purpose.  

Empowerment then is not merely the delegating of authority. It is the increasing of the ability of the receiver to mobilise actions in his turn and may include some delegation of authority.

Empowerment then consists of actions to increase one or other of the states of human condition which confer power on his subject (knowledge, skill, social status, wealth or authority for example), so as to enhance the subject’s capability for mobilising actions.

But whether empowerment of others is needed or beneficial is a different matter. It should not be done merely for the sake of empowerment. It needs to be done for the sake of enhancing the ability of others to mobilise actions for some defined purpose.

Empowerment carries risk.

Empowering the incompetent is putting a loaded gun in the hands of a chimpanzee.

From Essence of a Manager: Chapter 2

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One Response to “Power and empowerment”

  1. frizztext Says:

    Empowering the incompetent is putting a loaded gun in the hands of a chimpanzee…
    nicely said …

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