How To Create A Culture of Empowerment Without Entitlement

Empowerment is generally considered a positive concept, but an attitude of entitlement typically carries a negative connotation. Is it possible that the space between the two is blurry at times?

As a leader, you know it’s important to truly empower your team to lead, yet at times you may be hesitant, wondering if empowerment feeds entitlement.  

One pastor asked: “How do I create a culture of empowerment without creating a culture of entitlement?”

Another pastor said: “It seems like the more I give away, the more this person wants.”

Empowerment isn’t an attitude or feeling or something you merely grant or bestow upon your leaders.

Genuine empowerment requires an intentional process that needs consistent effort and commitment. 

Empowerment within a vision-based organization committed to healthy teamwork is not a pass for the leaders to do what they want. It is not complete autonomy and freedom. 

This is where entitlement can begin to blur the picture. Entitlement brings certain expectations in a context of great freedom. Entitlement requires little process or accountability, and it is rarely partnership-based.

  • Entitlement is an attitude or internal disposition.
  • Empowerment is an intentional process.

Empowerment is an intentional process that results in leaders who are well trained, trusted, resourced, connected to the culture, and aligned with the vision.

A person with a sense of entitlement isn’t a bad person; in fact, they may be gifted, kind, and glad to be part of the organization, but some core notion exists within that person of receiving what is not earned, but in some way, deserved.

Empowered leaders receive consistent support, coaching, guidelines, communication, and encouragement.

5 Comparisons that Distinguish Empowerment from Entitlement:

1) Empowerment is something earned. Entitlement is a sense of something owed. 

Years ago, I had a wonderful conversation with a young leader on the team who was a bit frustrated because he hadn’t been selected for a promotion. I explained that he’d only been on staff for about eight minutes. OK, that’s exaggerated, but not by much.

I don’t think he had an entitlement attitude, but he hadn’t yet wrestled down the concept of earning something rather than deserving it. (Or worse, being owed.)

Empowerment is something earned over time; it’s a process of growing as a leader and building what you have been given before you are given more.

Entitlement carries a sense of equality and fairness designed largely inside one’s own thoughts and desires.

The trouble with this aspect of entitlement is that whatever is received is rarely enough, and it does not manifest itself with gratitude.

2) Empowerment is based on trust and belief. Entitlement can operate in the absence of relationship.

All authority is transferred; it’s an issue of stewardship, not ownership. Empowerment is a trust, not a privilege.

The transfer of authority is based on trust, and trust is at the core of all healthy and productive relationships.

Empowerment is based on the belief that the person is the right person for the responsibility and has the competence and capacity to do the job well.

Entitlement allows someone to receive a position without trust or belief, but merely as a transactional moment or mechanical decision.

In essence, that means without relationship.

Empowerment is human and personal; it’s based on a heart level, trust, and belief in potential, not “it’s your turn” or you are “next in line.”

When Kevin Myers, our senior pastor, empowered me nineteen years ago as his executive pastor, it was based on trust and belief in me and our relationship. In it, there is an honor, respect, and from me much gratitude. It’s a relationship we both enjoy.

3) Empowerment results in corporate good. Entitlement results in personal gain. 

When a leader is empowered in a healthy organization, the organization benefits and becomes stronger, in many cases, it also becomes larger.

When a leader receives something out of entitlement, the organization may benefit, but that is not the first priority. The first priority is that the person benefits personally.

Empowerment must be focused on accomplishing the vision, not just the advancement of the person.

The heart of empowerment delights in watching a leader rise but can never remove the responsibility of the mission being advanced.

Entitlement often exists mainly for benefits and blessings, which are not bad in themselves, but without connection to responsibility and the vision, that creates a toxic and unhealthy culture.

4) Empowerment requires a process of training. Entitlement can take place in a moment.

When Jesus empowered His disciples to heal the sick, cast out demons, and preach the gospel, it wasn’t in a moment, He spent time with them and trained them.

Empowerment is a developmental process that takes time, effort, and energy. It’s not a handshake, and off the person goes.

The transfer of entitlement can occur in a moment, but empowerment is a continual and dynamic process. As the size and scope of the ministry grows, the size and scope of the empowerment must grow with it.

Greater empowerment always requires more development and greater trust. Not greater trust in terms of character, but of competence and capacity to carry the weight of more responsibility.

This reality presents a helpful insight into why it’s so important who you choose to empower. Empowerment is essential, but it’s your choice who you empower.

When someone else chooses for you, that’s entitlement.

5) Empowerment aligns expectations through communication. Entitlement can operate independently.

Entitlement can operate independently and without accountability.

The reason for this is the inherent disconnect of mutual expectations.

Entitlement allows expectation to flow in one direction.

The trust that empowerment lives and breaths stays alive through consistent and honest communication. That communication continually monitors expectations.

Healthy expectations on a church team travel in two directions: from the one who empowered and from the one who is empowered.

Unmet expectations are the greatest cause of disappointment and frustration within even healthy environments of development and empowerment.

If that is allowed to continue over a long period, it can result in entitlement.

How so?

When someone has not received what they expected to receive (breakdown of deeper and honest communication), that begins to fester, the person often ends up wanting even more than the original expectation.

This is how it often moves from hope and desire to something deserved.

For more on healthy and effective empowerment, you can read an additional post on the topic here.

14 thoughts on “How To Create A Culture of Empowerment Without Entitlement”

  1. Gerald Polmateer

    There is a big difference between believing a person can do a task or job and believing in the person. I tell people the person I meet with that the person who should be the most teachable is the leader. 47 years ago I had an incredible opportunity for some training. It was the kind of training very few ever get. A few years ago I told the man who trained me that there is no reason why God would have used me. He told me the reason why he met with me was because I did everything he asked. At that time I had been a Christian for 1-1/2 years. Good training helps people to be humble and have a teachable heart. In good training we train the entire person, not just a the cognitive level. Many years ago I asked a man who was exceptionally good at evangelism in the community to show me how he does it. He was glad to let me go with him. A few weeks ago he told me at that time was a down time for him and by my asking helped him that helped him a lot. I have trained people to do evangelism the same way he trained me.

  2. Nancy J Beers

    Thank you Pastor Reiland for your contribution to my walk! The work and time you place on studying and penning these truths is of great value and I am grateful you choose to live sacrifically to what God calls you to do. I am also blessed at your generosity! It is not required of you to have an open hand and open heart by giving these lessons to us free, but out of your general and love you do! What a heart postured to the Father!

  3. Good thoughts here on an interesting subject. I have generally found that leaders who think overmuch about too much entitlement in their team members are not intentional enough with empowerment, and team members who think overmuch about too little empowerment from their leaders are struggling with too much entitlement.

    The problem is we tend to want to pull the speck out of another person’s (and generation’s) eye, right?

  4. Thank you Dan for reminding us of the importance of leaning into this tension that often comes with ministry and healthy leadership. I have found myself needing to slow down sometimes in making sure that I’m not holding on too tightly to missed opportunities to empower those who are with me in the journey. But I also understand that trust and discernment are important as to who you hand certain responsibilities off to. May we never fall into the trap of empowering just for the sake of obligation, but be sure to invest in those leaders who are ready and able to handle what’s given to them. Great insight this week!

  5. Ranjit (Ron) DeSilva

    A great article! I am writing from Sri Lanka and this is so common in the third world, where leaders who receive the vision from God, start the church, and then want to stay on forever! They have a following of older people who support them. Any thot of replacing them becomes a huge emotional issue in the church. Such churches are heading for extinction.

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