Understanding the meaning of empowerment will depend on how one defines power (and empowerment for that matter). For the purposes of this discussion, I define power as…
the ability to do or act; capability of doing or accomplishing something.
Let’s now compare definitions of empowerment, which will begin with my definition first, followed by Lew’s definition.
to enable or permit [how I define the term]
to give power to (someone); to make (someone) stronger and more confident [Lew’s definition]
Using my definitions, I would then expand the notion of empowerment as follows:
enabling or permitting someone to do something, to take action, to become capable of doing something, or to accomplish something
In contrast, Lew offers an interpretation of what empowerment means as follows:
The key words here are “give” and “make.” Empowerment means you’re transferring power to someone else. You think someone else needs you — your permission, your influence, your talents — to do something. And I don’t ever believe that’s the case.
Depending on the context and the individual, people move between moments of dependency, independency, and interdependence — the goal being one of interdependency. So, employees do need their superiors just as superiors need their employees. Humans succeed to the degree they become interdependent.
A leader enables others to act and to become more knowledgeable and skillful as long as these actions align with organizational and individual goals. In this sense, leadership becomes an entitlement and is not limited to rank, position, or title. Indeed, leadership facilitates the transition between dependency, to becoming independent, then ultimately interdependent. Think of the meaning of leadership as being ontological as opposed to epistemological.
So, let’s not throw out empowerment and power just yet. The reason why there are multiple definitions in the dictionary for a single word is because people use the word in different ways. Semantically speaking, the problem has more to do with certain interpretations of the meaning of power than how some interpret the meaning of empowerment; regardless, let’s continue using both terms (with appropriate definitions) so that we continue having the right conversations about their meanings in terms of promoting proper leadership skills for the future. If we continue having the right conversations long enough, perhaps some of the current definitions of power, empowerment, etc. will become archaic.