Empowerment and waterline


Didier Marlier

May 09, 2018

From Disruption to Engagement

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Empowerment is the basis for trust, simplified procedures and processes, daring organizations and customer obsession. These new directions are followed by those taking on the Disruption Economy. It suggests that the shift from traditional, vertical, siloed and hierarchical organizations, towards self-led, flatter, purpose-driven and agile organisms has started.

But when comes the time to empower their people, many leaders find challenging to encourage it while ensuring control since, in their industry, any incident could have dramatic consequences.

For those of us struggling with bringing together empowerment and control, here are a few thoughts:

We observe, in our work, that there are three conditions to empower people in a responsible manner:

  • Autonomy: Am I truly ready to let that person lead, explore and decide on my behalf? Am I willing to let him take different decisions to the ones I would have taken if I were in his shoes and will I nevertheless support him unconditionally? This is the first test and it demands a true integrity with myself… Am I ready to support a decision which I would have taken differently?
    I like the very simple drawing an ex-colleague used to show in order to reassure leaders, anxious at letting go of their control
    The captain of a ship, intending to empower his people, will allow them any experimentation above the waterline. Below, could be lethal. Our job, in providing autonomy, is to clearly indicate its limitations if any.
  • Mastery: Is that person equipped to succeed in their mission? Or am I “setting them up for failure”? It is our duty, as leaders, to ensure that our people are fit for the job. In our experience of Change Leaders (the psychological aspect of change), one of the most frequent cause of “Resistance to Change” happens when people are deeply insecure about their competences. They do not feel they have the necessary Mastery to succeed and will block the change in a desperate, unconscious hope to save face.
  • Purpose: Listen to Lt. General Van Riper (retired US Marines General) talk about how a leader should empower his troops on the field. When he talks about objectives, he means Purpose of the Mission. The video clip is self-explanatory and short.

Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose are the three responsibilities a leader must check prior to empowering an individual or their whole organization”. I hope this checklist will be useful and… reassuring. Enjoy your Leadership Journey!


  1. Aniruddha Gupta

    Hi Didier, This blog is really very impressive and pertinant for leaders to embrace in a Disruptive Environment

    • Didier Marlier

      Thank you for your much appreciated feedback, dear Aniruddha… I would be very proud and grateful if you could distribute it to other people who may benefit from it… Sharing is caring 😉
      I wish you an excellent week!

  2. Guillaume Collard

    Toujours aussi pertinent et intéressant à lire. Je suis certain que cet article permettra aux leaders d’y voir plus clair.

    Au plaisir de te lire à nouveau!

    • Didier Marlier

      Merci Guillaume, je l’espère aussi. L’empowerment est devenu un tel buzzword mais si mal appliqué… A bientôt j’espère


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“Engaging Leadership” has been written for leaders who are about to engage their organisations in change."

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