Do you know what it’s like to feel truly empowered? Can you recognize when it’s the real deal, and when it’s an empty promise? You might need to answer these questions frequently as you get further down your path of understanding what it is to be empowered. Vestalia’s very own Jeff Wynn took some time to reflect on empowerment and his experiences with it at different jobs, and landed on how one moment in time opened his eyes up to what it truly feels like to own his role within an organization.
Read on to hear his story!
By Jeff Wynn, Associate Director of People Services at Vestalia Hospitality, 4/17/19
In our organization, we talk about empowerment quite a bit. In fact, we’ve only been increasing the conversations about empowerment in recent months, and that’s not going away any time soon. There is a difference in being empowered and understanding what that means/truly feeling empowered. We’ve all had our own struggle with understanding empowerment, and here’s mine.
In past positions, I was offered a certain amount of “freedom” and promises of being able to be generally autonomous. To me, that sounded great. It sounded like I could really do what I thought needed to be done for myself, my role, and my company. This always seemed to have a caveat, though. I had the freedom to do what I thought was best, as long as my direct supervisor agreed and approved. So, my so-called freedom was only freedom as long as my boss agreed that I was doing what was correct or at least moving in the right direction. This often caused tension and lead me to feel like I was being micromanaged. I didn’t really have freedom or power to do anything, but I was still being held accountable to my results.
When I started with Vestalia, I remember having conversations with members of leadership, especially at the Vestalia level, where they would describe the organization’s approach to leadership and the idea of empowerment. I have to admit, my past run-ins with empowerment and freedom in my roles left me a little jaded, and I didn’t really buy what they were selling. Then, I saw examples of the company living this mentality. Asking leaders what they wanted to do instead of giving directions. Asking questions to get to a solution instead of just giving one that would just solve the problem. This was very eye opening for me.
Here I was, living in this organization that was actually living up to its ideals of empowerment. Were we perfect at it all the time? Hell no. There were times I saw specific direction being given instead of a leader being allowed to figure out what direction they wanted to go in. It was also my natural desire to just give answers and tell people what I thought should happen, but I had to move past that. I started asking questions and helping people come to their own answers rather than prescribing them. It was new, but it was also a great feeling to sort of give away that power and responsibility.
I understood what empowerment was and how it was supposed to work, but I didn’t fully feel empowered. I thought I did, and I thought that, since I understood it, that must mean that I was empowered too. Well, truth is, I was. I was given all of the power for my responsibilities in this role. I had the ability to make decisions and do things my way, whatever it was, as long as I accomplished what I needed to accomplish and acted within the parameters of our culture and the law, since I’m in charge of employment law compliance. I was living it, but I wasn’t really feeling it until one random day.
At the beginning of 2019, we decided to make Vestalia Hospitality a full-fledged company and operate as an individual entity, separate from the restaurants. One of the pieces that came along with that was creating a new payroll company in Proliant, which was obviously my task, because I do payroll and communicate with Proliant most frequently. This is where the feeling of empowerment came into play for me. I was answering their questions and making decisions for the company that I thought were correct and no one was checking up on me. Even when spending a little money came into the picture to set things up between Proliant and our accountants, I felt like I could make that decision. It was almost an “Aha” moment for me. I remember, Ann and Conrad were out of town, so asking Conrad for his thought/opinion wasn’t going to be expedient and they needed a decision ASAP, so I made the decision. Not only did it feel good to do so, but it also felt ok and right. I didn’t have to ask permission to act within my role, which wasn’t necessarily something I was used to, due to my past roles.
Experiencing this feeling is something I have carried forward with me to the rest of my job. I’ve really noticed the areas where I’m empowered. The best way I can describe it is feeling trusted. No one is micromanaging you or telling you that you’re not doing something correctly. If you do mess up, it’s simply expected that you recognize it, fix it, learn from it and move forward. It’s as simple as that. Of course, support is available when needed and I ask for opinions when I feel like I could use input from more than just myself, but I still own the decision making for my role for the most part.
If you think you understand what empowerment means within the organization, I would challenge you to take a closer look at your ideas of what it really is and what it means for you. This small example is just what it looked like for me in my role. It’s going to be completely different for each of you as you work your way through it in multiple scenarios. Where do you see it every day? Can you see other people acting with it? How do you feel about it? Food for thought.