Part 2.1: What is the Difference between Empowering and Enabling


Our original blog about the difference between empowering and enabling is the most googled blog topic we’ve ever published. It’s also a hot topic that comes up frequently with clients.

Since it’s so popular, we wanted to update it for 2019 and give you more on the topic.

Let’s first set the stage and give you a bit of a mini-recap of our original blog post to put this in a better perspective.


  • As a leader in your business, your job is to help each team member take personal responsibility for his or her behaviors, actions and results.
  • Your responsibility is to guide and assist them in working toward their professional goals and to help them eliminate the barriers to achieving those goals.
  • You’re there to empower them.
  • You’re not there to do it for them. That’s enabling.

Since our original post, we have adopted a process we call Accountability With Care, which our clients tell us that it helps them stop enabling their people and start empowering them.

A Culture of Accountability With Care is obtaining desired business results, respectfully and professionally, created by having safe, open, honest and transparent communication without fear of retribution, the hammer, micromanaging, enabling, harassment, discrimination or bullying of any kind in the workplace.

As a reminder, the negative outcome for you as a leader when you enable your people vs empower them is:

  1. They don’t think for themselves.
  2. They don’t have to worry about being wrong or taking risks.
  3. They don’t have to worry about displeasing their boss.
  4. They don’t have to be accountable for their actions.
  5. They just have to ask you what to do, and you tell them. Easy!

Ultimately, enabling leads to lower productivity which leads to lower morale which leads to a bottom line where money falls through the cracks and you don’t even see it.

Making the Shift

So, here are the three most effective actions our clients tell us they use to shift from enabling management to empowering leadership, which leads to a workplace of Accountability With Care:

  • Have clearly defined mutual expectations
  • Stay on the ask side vs. the telling side
  • Make it all about the other person

We’re covering clearly defined mutual expectations in this part (2.1). Stay tuned over the next two weeks for the other two – staying on the ask side and making it all about the other person.

Clearly defined mutual expectations are the number one most important thing in building a trusting and healthy relationship.

How many times have you had an employee come in your office, again and again, still not clear on what they need to do for a project or task? You don’t understand why they don’t understand. Everything is just messy and people start to get frustrated! Understandably so.

The task probably started off like this, “Sarah, I don’t have time to do this report, and I need it fast. Just see Mike if you have questions.” Wait, what? What does fast mean? Who the heck is Mike? What do I need to do? Sarah leaves totally confused and unsure what she’s supposed to do. This may be a bit exaggerated (everyone knows who Mike is, duh.) but we do hear this from our clients all the time. People are just not clear and too often leaders just want their employees to ‘figure it out’, which ultimately leads to wasted time and company resources – hurting your bottom line!

Defining Mutual Expectations:

(1) What is the long-term strategic mission and vision of the company? The one which we are all working together to achieve, the reason we get out of bed every day and spend 40+ hours a week here!

(2) Employee-manager expectations. These are centered around goals and objectives. What are we working on? What needs to be measured and quantified?

(3) Then there are daily expectations that focus on day to day behaviors, how we work together, and how we will communicate (relative to the example above). What are your expectations of me as your leader? How can I best help you? How can we best communicate with one another?

To define each of these, you need to sit down one on one and talk about them! Do you both have a mutual understanding of them and do you know how to work best together to find success? When these are clear, you won’t find yourself enabling your people anymore because they know what you expect and need of them and you know what they need and expect of you. There will be clarity in how you communicate with one another.

Additionally, when you come from a caring place to create mutual understanding, you’re empowering your people to do the best possible job that they can. They will naturally open up to you and begin to trust that you have their best interest at heart. The magical tool we’ve developed to establish clear expectations is called an Upfront Agreement (free template).

That segues us perfectly into our next point on staying on the ask side, which we will cover next week.

Do you have other tools or techniques that you’ve used to empower your people? We’d love to hear about them! You can email us directly at

p.s. if you love these tips, check out 5 Principles to Shift from Enabling to Empowering and please share these with others that could benefit.