Empowerment and leadership are actually closely related concepts. A manager using empowerment to enable workers to make decisions independently while offering the necessary support and resources exhibits leadership. However, empowerment is distinct from other common functions of management in that it largely centers on an employee's abilities.


A manager who relies on employee empowerment takes a different approach to coaching than one who leads but doesn't empower. Empowerment means that you give employees freedom to make decisions and complete higher-level tasks. The coaching normally occurs during training before you turn them loose and in follow-up conversations. A typical leadership approach to coaching emphasizes the entire process of setting goals, training and developing the employee to meet them, directing his activity and then following up on progress.


Empowerment is based on delegation of authority. However, all effective leaders delegate routine tasks to front-line employees. The difference with empowerment is that the delegation is more role-based. In essence, you give an employee freedom to make judgments based on the prescribed guidelines of his role in sales, service or production. Aside from empowerment, a leader uses effective delegation by assigning tasks and deadlines and following up on completion. Employee empowerment isn't inherent.


An April 2010 "Harvard Business Review" article emphasized that managers don't actually empower employees; the employees empower themselves. While this message may seem like semantics, it does point out the importance of an employee accepting and thriving with independence and authority. The ability to influence is a common quality identified in good leaders. This often relates to the ability to empathize with and inspire workers. However, empowerment is more about getting an employee to believe in his own decisions and abilities free from constant affirmation.


The role of employee motivation and discipline varies between empowerment and other forms of leadership. Empowerment relies on basic motivational theories, such as Frederick Herzberg's two-factory theory, which emphasize the motivating qualities of responsibility and achievement. Thus, the manager assigns responsibility and offers praise and recognition when employees make good decisions. A more conventional view of motivating as a leader relates to enthusiasm, energy, charisma and other personality qualities that allow one to help inspire employees toward a common cause.