Metaphors have been described, by Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset, as magical. He refers to them as one of the most fertile, fruitful powers on earth. If you are not taking advantage of this power, you are missing verbal opportunities to project an image of power.

Just consider this–one simple, two-word metaphor that first appeared in a “Wall Street Journal” headline in 1986 made it all the way to the White House. The phrase was a reference to the “glass ceiling” that seems to prevent some women from climbing the success ladder in various workplaces. In 1991, the White House Council on Women and Girls introduced the “Glass Ceiling Initiative” to help women and minorities advance in corporations.


Asked how his company had increased earnings by 246% in 1995, CEO Robert Eaton gave a one-word answer: “Empowerment.” A simple word. Are there specific methods where you work for encouraging employees to feel empowered?

If not, consider the Five-In Approach. If you are not a supervisor, discuss the possibility of using the approach, with modification as needed, with the workforce in your organization.

The Five-In Approach asks an individual to consider just how much responsibility she’ll accept regarding a given project. Here’s what you’d say as you work through the accountability stages with followers.

Level 5, the highest, is a Declaration of IN-dependence. If you commit to this level, you’re basically saying you want to take full responsibility for the outcome. As a Level-5 player, you report to no one. (Such a decision, of course, also means that with your power, you’ll take on full accountability.) You’re 100% in charge of the plan, the process it undergoes, and the product that is produced.

Level 4, in which you exercise about 80% of the power, requires you to IN-itiate. You come up with an idea for improving some aspect of your work, you gain approval from the powers-that-be, and you launch the project. However, you are willing to relinquish some of the responsibility, and so you assign someone to do some thing. You will oversee the work of that person and be almost fully responsible for it. You operate as the manager at this stage.

At the next level, you and another person (usually your manager) assume a 50/50 responsibility for the execution of a given plan. While the preceding two levels were top-down arrangements, this one is a lateral agreement, a two-way street. You might come up with the improvement plan or your manager might assign it to you. Either way, you prepare an outline of what you IN-tend to do. Once you’ve obtained his/her approval, you will proceed, making periodic progress reports to your manager along the way. Responsibility and accountability are equally shared at this partnership-level.

When you have neither the time nor inclination to fully commit to a project, you may wish to operate at the second-lowest level, IN-vestigate. Once you’ve identified a need or an improvement-possibility, you will do some research to determine if it’s a worthwhile effort. (Perhaps it’s already been done. Perhaps someone else is already doing it now. Perhaps there are no funds for its implementation.) If, after your research, you determine it’s a project that merits execution, you will turn it over to someone else, who would assume about 80% of the responsibility for its completion. The lion’s share of accountability would also fall on the shoulders of this person. Your input occurs only at the beginning of the project but you are accountable for the accuracy and thoroughness of the investigation regarding the viability of the project. At this level, you are definitely serving in a subordinate position.

The lowest level of responsibility/accountability, Level 1, requires you merely to IN-form someone of a need that you perceive. That’s it. You have no further responsibility. Someone else investigates, forms a plan of intention, initiates, and/or operates independently. Here, you would have practically no involvement or ownership. The person you turn it over to has virtually 100% responsibility/accountability.


Especially if you are in a leadership position, pose a question to your team every once in a while. And if you are not in such a position, consider the following if you are tempted to embark on a more-empowered future. Discuss your thoughts with someone whose intellect you respect.

1- Why do some people refuse to be empowered?

2- Why do some bosses refuse to empower others?

3- Stephen Covey’s research reveals 25-50% of activities in large organizations pertain to political games and departmental rivalries. Is that so here? If so, what can we do about it?

4- Less than 20% of human talent is being used in most places. If your workplace is a typical of most places, there is a considerable waste of human talent. What can be done to take advantage of that talent?

5- Author Tom Peters has asserted, “If you have gone a whole week without being disobedient, you are doing your organization and yourself a disservice.” How do you interpret this?

7- Author (The General’s Daughter) Nelson DeMille has said, “Power, I’ve learned, is derived in many legitimate ways. But if the institution has not fully empowered you, but has given you a job that is very important and really sucks, then you have to take the power you need to get it done. I think the Army expects that, it expects you to demonstrate initiative, as they constantly tell you. But you have to be careful, because this only works if you’re getting the job done.” Explain why you agree or disagree.

8- Rank order Appreciation, Inclusion, Help, Security, Salary, Growth, Loyalty, Conditions, Diplomacy.

9- What are your job duties? What qualifications does a person need to do your job? What changes will occur in your job in the next five years? What obstacles prevent you from doing the very best job of which you are capable?

10- What guidelines would you fashion to encourage greater independence, more empowered behavior for yourself or for your workplace.


Never be opposed to merging ideas from different realms. Here is one from the word of fashion, applied to the world of business. A famous French fashionista, nicknamed “Coco,” is known for asserting, “The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.” Empower yourself to share your thoughts in the workplace. And then, to act on those ideas.


  • Dr. Marlene Caroselli is the author of 60+ books, the most recent of which ("Applying Mr. Einstein") will be released by HRD Press in 2020. You can reach her at [email protected].