Social Business Zone is brought to you in partnership with:

Jurgen Appelo calls himself a creative networker. But sometimes he's a writer, speaker, trainer, entrepreneur, illustrator, manager, blogger, reader, dreamer, leader, freethinker, or… Dutch guy. Since 2008 Jurgen writes a popular blog at, covering the creative economy, agile management, and personal development. He is the author of the book Management 3.0, which describes the role of the manager in agile organizations. And he wrote the little book How to Change the World, which describes a supermodel for change management. Jurgen is CEO of the business network Happy Melly, and co-founder of the Agile Lean Europe network and the Stoos Network. He is also a speaker who is regularly invited to talk at business seminars and conferences around the world. After studying Software Engineering at the Delft University of Technology, and earning his Master’s degree in 1994, Jurgen Appelo has busied himself starting up and leading a variety of Dutch businesses, always in the position of team leader, manager, or executive. Jurgen has experience in leading a horde of 100 software developers, development managers, project managers, business consultants, service managers, and kangaroos, some of which he hired accidentally. Nowadays he works full-time managing the Happy Melly ecosystem, developing innovative courseware, books, and other types of original content. But sometimes Jurgen puts it all aside to spend time on his ever-growing collection of science fiction and fantasy literature, which he stacks in a self-designed book case. It is 4 meters high. Jurgen lives in Rotterdam (The Netherlands) -- and in Brussels (Belgium) -- with his partner Raoul. He has two kids, and an imaginary hamster called George. Jurgen has posted 145 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

Empowerment, That Horrible Word

  • submit to reddit

What scientists call distributed control is usually called empowerment by management consultants. However, some experts don’t like the term. The word seems to suggest that people are “disempowered” by default and need to be “empowered” by their managers. Perhaps that was indeed its original meaning, and I agree that this could be seen as disrespectful.

On the other hand, I believe networked systems are more powerful than hierarchical systems, because it’s so much harder to destroy them. By distributing control in an organization we not only empower workers, we also empower the managers. Maybe we should see it as empowerment of the system, not of the people. Remember the last time you were sick? I bet you felt quite powerless as an individual person against that tiny distributed virus. I’m just glad your distributed immune system was even more powerful, or else I had one reader less!

Plenty of arguments in favor of empowerment are cited in management literature, such as improving worker satisfaction, increasing profitability, and strengthening competitiveness. All of it is true. But never forget that the real reason for empowerment is to improve system effectiveness and survival. We enable the organization to be more resilient and agile, by delegating decision making and distributing control.

All over the world, knowledge workers are becoming better educated and more able to take matters in their own hands. And the more educated people are, the less effective authoritarian power works. In many organizations teams understand their work better than their managers do. Therefore the primary concern of management should be empowerment, not supervision. We aim for a more powerful system, not better controlled people.

Published at DZone with permission of its author, Jurgen Appelo.

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)