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Empowerment at Work

written by Amanda Horne 3 February 2010

Amanda Horne is an executive coach and facilitator whose business theme is "Thriving People and Workplaces." She is an Authentic Happiness Coaching graduate and a founding member of Positive Workplace International. Full bio.

Amanda's articles are here.

Are there positive ways to combat employee negativity? Are you interested in improving personal and organizational performance and at the same time personal and organizational well-being?



Over the long Christmas / New Year / summer break which many Australians enjoy, I took the opportunity to organize my filing. I discovered articles lurking in the “to read” list. Happy to use PPND as an excuse to kick off the year with some research and reading, I chose to read an article about the role of positive organizational behavior and transformational leadership in enhancing employee performance, and how empowerment might play a mediating role.

The article provides timely reminders for leaders, managers and employees. Two key messages to draw from the researchers’ work include:


  1. Help your employees increase their levels of empowerment at work by helping them increase their psychological capital
  2. Direct your efforts into creating transformational leaders, whose leadership style can affect employees’ levels of empowerment and performance

Read on to learn a little more.

Feeling empowered?

Feeling empowered?


Referring to the work of Gretchen Spreitzer, the authors describe empowerment as a multidimensional construct comprising:

  1. Meaning: “value of a work goal or purpose, judged in relation to one’s own ideal or standards”
  2. Competence: “an individual’s belief in his or her capability to perform activities with skill”
  3. Autonomy: a sense of having “a choice in initiating and regulating actions”
  4. Impact: “the degree to which an individual can influence strategic, administrative or operating outcomes at work”

Few of you would be surprised about the benefits of being empowered. The research supports what we have all experienced: “empowerment has been found to be related to effectiveness, less job strain and more job satisfaction, less anger and frustration on the job and greater organizational attachment.”

Psychological Capital and Positive Organizational Behavior

Positive Organizational Behavior (POB) and Psychological Capital (Psycap) emerged from the work of Luthans, Youssef, and colleagues. They describe one’s positive psychological state in terms of four components:

  1. Confidence / self efficacy: “the confidence to take on and put in the necessary effort to succeed at challenging tasks”
  2. Hope: “persevering toward goals and, when necessary, redirecting paths to goals in order to succeed”
  3. Optimism: “making a [realistic] positive attribution about succeeding now and in the future”
  4. Resilience: “when beset by problems and adversity, sustaining and bouncing back and even beyond to attain success”

PsyCap is described as a ‘common root resource’ and is similar to the work of other researchers who reinforce the importance of self esteem, self efficacy, locus of control and emotional stability as essential personal psychological resources.

Confidence, hope and optimism are described as proactive resources; resilience is a reactive resource. People with high PsyCap put more effort into a task, are tenacious, have a realistic expectation of future success, are motivated, adapt well to change, and perform better at work. They experience lower levels cynicism at work in the face of change and are more likely to positively embrace the challenge of change. They are less likely to quit. Not only is this personally beneficial to the employee, it has a positive impact on organizational performance.

PsyCap and Empowerment

Power and Autonomy

Power and Autonomy

Personal power and autonomy are more possible if employees have high levels of PsyCap, since PsyCap tends to make people perceive themselves having greater impacts on their organizations. They can solve problems without waiting for direction, they have a sense of control and autonomy, and they have confidence in their abilities. People who feel empowered have lower levels of cynicism and are less likely to intend to quit.

Transformational Leadership

People who have a transformational leader also have a greater sense of empowerment, improved performance and job satisfaction, lower levels of cynicism at work and are less likely to quit. This results in higher levels of organizational attachment. A win-win for everyone.

Transformational leaders have qualities that include:

  • showing how the goals and values of the group, followers, leader and organization are in basic agreement
  • inspiring commitment to a mission or goal
  • providing individual attention their employees
  • inspiring individuals to look beyond self interest to the good of the group

Transformational Leadership and Empowerment

Like PsyCap, Transformational Leadership is powerful in creating high levels of empowerment in employees and in enhancing performance at work. This points to the importance of investing in developing transformational leaders.

Overall, this article reinforces the dual role of both employees and leaders in influencing a positive workplace.



Avey, J. B., Hughes, L. W., Norman, S. M., & Luthans, K. (2008) Using positivity, transformational leadership and empowerment to combat employee negativity. Leadership and Organization Development Journal, 29, 110-126

Luthans, F., Youssef, C. & Avolio, B. (2006). Psychological Capital: Developing the Human Competitive Edge. Oxford University Press.

Spreitzer, G. M. & Sonenshein, S. (2003). Positive deviance and extraordinary organizing. In K. Cameron, J. Dutton, & & R. Quinn (Eds.) Positive organizational scholarship: Foundations of a new discipline, pp. 207-224. San Francisco: Berrett-Kohler.


Photos courtesy of Karen Horne and Amanda Horne

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Dave Shearon 7 February 2010 - 8:27 am

Enjoyed the article, Amanda!

Couple of quick points:

PPND has a book note about Psychological Capital

Second, interesting to note how both empowerment and transfromational leadership relate to Ryan and Deci’s Self Determination Theory. SDT, with a substantial research base behind it, suggests we all are motivated to achieve autonomy, competence, and relatedness. The points for transformational leadership above are almost exclusively directed toward relatedness if one includes Marty Seligman’s view of meaning (“connected to something bigger or greater than self”). Empowerment has the competence and autonomy components listed explicitly with the relatedness aspect expressed as meaning and impact. Just an interesting lens through which to look at the powerful constructs you describe.

Thanks for the article!

WJ 7 February 2010 - 2:40 pm

Amanda, I’ve seen some reserach that suggests that transformative leaders don’t transform people – they attract and retain people who like the transformative style. So I guess I wonder transformational leaders move on.

Any thoughts?

Jeff 8 February 2010 - 7:32 pm


Write MORE PSYCAP Articles, Please!!!!!

Amanda Horne 10 February 2010 - 6:35 am

Hi Dave & Wayne

Dave: Thanks for posting the link to the PPND book note. Great point about the connections – thank you. It’s encouraging to see the very close connections between the empowerment components, SDT components and meaning / purpose. I found it interesting that the author’s reference is to Spreitzer’s work dated 1993, which I believe pre-dates the more well-known articles by Deci and Ryan.

Wayne: yes, I can see your point about the research. One is only transformational if another is transformed. Not everyone will resonate with a person’s style of leadership. I know someone who is not considered typically transformational, yet some of their employees really enjoy working for them because their style suits those employees.
Your question was about what happens when transformation leaders move on. My view would be that those who enjoyed working for those people would be disappointed, and yes, would like to follow them. On the other hand, if the leader has done a good job, those people will be equipped to stay on and step up to the challenge.



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