I am a big fan of disempowerment.
There should be quote marks around that 25-cent word, because I am not a proponent of literally stripping people of power and leaving them feeling weak, helpless, and crushed by the system. Instead, my use of the word refers to a conversation that I had with a partner at the firm some years ago. When I mentioned that I liked to treat associates to lunch to show my appreciation for their hard work, she earnestly told me that I should be careful about doing that, because taking associates to lunch and then paying for their meal could be viewed as personally disempowering them.
I thought about the concept, and in particular considered my own reaction to being taken to lunch when I was an associate. I was always glad to get a freebie and happy to be included — because sometimes there is, indeed, such as thing as a free lunch.
However, my partner friend was far more sensitive to the kind of personal dynamics that might reflect a feeling of disempowerment than I am. It was quite possible — maybe even probable — that I was disempowering people right and left but simply was too brutish to realize it. So, ever since that our conversation, before I take an associate or summer clerk out to lunch I ask if they mind being disempowered, and then explain the circumstances.
So far, no one has ever declined being disempowered. In fact, I’ve had associate friends come up and ask me when they can be disempowered again. Indeed, I’ve had people I have disempowered in the past looking for opportunities to disempower me come lunch time, which means we’ve established a kind of circle of disempowerment. And yesterday I had one of our partners call me and apologize for disempowering me because she preemptively took a summer clerk to lunch at a restaurant where I traditionally host summer clerk lunches.
It wasn’t quite a correct use of “disempowerment,” but I appreciated the sentiment.