Hello, my name is Scott, and I’m an empowerer.

Before you beat me up for the title, let me explain.

I’m the guy who truly believes in growing people. I’m a coach and a teacher, and I love watching growth happen.


I’m also the guy who has failed more times than I can count due to my willingness to empower those undeserving of being empowered.

That may sound harsh, but it’s 100% true.

I should know better as I teach project management and espouse effective stakeholder engagement.

The definition of empower that I routinely teach is: Authorize this stakeholder to make specific decisions about the project.

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Where I’ve failed is empowering people with neither the right level of POWER nor INTEREST in the project and being surprised by their inability to live up to my expectations. 

Much of the failure is driven by my past. My work in the Army Special Operations community, where I was constantly surrounded by folks worthy of being empowered, spoiled me for future work.

And it’s most likely spoiled you too.

Being on a high-performing team, or working with high-performing people, is fantastic. It’s also rare.

Too many people I see look at all teams through an optimistic lens and let our histories screw up our engagement strategies with this same optimism.

Stop it. Right now. Today.

Take a moment and repeat this to yourself: just because the person I work with is an extraordinary human being, I refuse to empower them on my projects UNLESS they possess the correct amount of power and interest IN the project.

People are who they are, not who you want them to be. 

I’ll take this further and tell you to do your best to truly understand what motivates your teams. 

Here are three questions to ask yourself that will help:

1: Are they an employee, or are they a team member? (Do you know the difference? Do they?). Hint: employees show up for a paycheck – that’s what interests them, not your vision. 

2: Have you created a culture in which they are deserved to be empowered? 

3: Do you trust BOTH them and yourself to live with their decisions?

If the answer to ANY of these isn’t a resounding YES – I would strongly urge you to focus more on how you engage with this person. 

If you don’t, you are setting everyone up for failure. You may also be setting the organization itself up for failure.

At this point, you are hopefully taking a hard introspective look at yourself and thinking, “what have I done?”

But it’s not too late.

I regularly tell clients one of the very simple keys to success is saying “No.” more often. Saying no doesn’t make you negative. It gives you infinitely more chance of success. 

Say no to the people on your team fighting to be empowered if they aren’t in a position to be. Say no to the people on your team who don’t have the proper level of interest in what you are doing. Say no to the people on your team who aren’t deserving to be empowered.

Lead them. 

No one said it would be easy.

If you look at the engagement strategy chart below, you will notice a point in the middle in which the boxes turn green. 

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Ask yourself this “do I want this person to have the ability to guide decisions, or do I prefer to make the decisions and get their feedback?”

This strategy is called INVOLVING people in the project and is a much safer alternative to empowering them. You will see that INVOLVE is in the middle of the POWER and INTEREST grid. I’ll tell you from experience; this is where most of your people live. 

You may want them to be higher, and they’ve probably done a great job convincing you they deserve to be higher on the table, but don’t be fooled.

And no, punctuality to meetings doesn’t mean they have a high level of interest in the project. It just means they are punctual and professional.

I’d advise you to take a hard look at your people and revisit where you’ve placed them on the table solely and objectively due to their POWER and INTEREST in what you are doing with them. 

If they aren’t where they need to be, take the appropriate steps to correct things. Do so with a bit of urgency. 

This is your problem to fix, but rest assured that it is, in fact, a problem. 

You may think this will lead you to the dreaded “micro-management style,” but I’d argue that doing the right things to protect your company makes you nothing short of a fantastic leader.