An essential function of leadership in Army is the responsibility for developing soldiers. This development – in the form of skills, knowledge and cognitive improvement – prepares individuals for enhanced performance, new tasks, and employment in higher positions. Providing frequent learning opportunities throughout a career is a fundamental requirement for high-performing organisations. However, just passing on new information to recipients is not enough. Rather, leaders must tailor and contextualise knowledge and experiences for individuals and teams; resulting in active participation and commitment to organisational goals and purpose.
This short essay distinguishes between enablement (emphasising the leader’s role in equipping soldiers for their jobs) and empowerment: where leaders transfer power and responsibility to soldiers, providing them opportunity to feel motivated towards the betterment of the organisation.
The absence of authoritarianism, greater autonomy, involvement in organisational decision-making, and increased challenges at work are desires of the contemporary workforce (Kornbluh 1984). However, these conditions alone will not bring success. Therefore, leaders must support their people with leader action and optimised organisational design (Murch, 2022) such as human resource and systems integration, an effective structure, and training and development programs. Kornbluh (1984) portrays this as an environment of enablement contributing to participative involvement.
Leaders enable soldiers (formally and informally, institutionally and on the job) by developing the skills, knowledge, and attitudes required for job fulfilment and higher-level opportunities. Additionally, leaders enable their people by implementing changes to the organisational design framework that improve work conditions and enhance performance. Empowerment will fail without the enablement of soldiers who are motivated by purpose and supported with resources, equipment, systems, structures and integrated human resource practices.
Understanding empowerment allows leaders to identify the conditions required for a culture that develops empowered soldiers (Murch 2019). Here two separate views of empowerment are combined; firstly, Barner’s (1994) description that emphasizes the transference of power from the top to lower-level employees encouraging autonomous performance. Without this shift of power and responsibility, the second condition of empowerment is limited. That is, the necessity of self-efficacy and self-worth (Bandura1986) as determinants of a person’s capacity and motivation to perform a task well (Gist & Mitchell 1992; Conger & Kanungo 1988). This is the connection where the individual feels valued and trusted to achieve common goals.
Framing empowerment in this manner guides leaders to consider a workplace that:
- encourages open communications
- listens to the workforce
- simplifies processes
- has a believable vision and purpose
- is a learning organisation
Leaders create the environment for empowerment to flourish by providing the foundations of enablement; namely, opportunities for soldiers to learn, grow and apply new knowledge and skills at work. Shifting responsibility to subordinates without suitable development and resources is not empowerment. Enabled soldiers will only feel empowered once they recognise and believe they are contributors, actively engaged at work, and are recognised for their efforts.
A closing thought for leaders to consider – Leaders do not empower soldiers; they enable them. As a result of being enabled, soldiers will feel empowered.