Monty’s Idea

Empowerment. It’s what Monty Moran, former CEO of Chipotle and author of Love Is Free. Guac is Extra, sees as part of his success. Empowerment is “the Holy Grail of leadership.” The most important concept that you could embrace. He wrote a whole book about the dramatic results that he got by building a culture of what he called empowered top performance.

Empowerment, by his definition, is “when you feel confident in your ability and encouraged by your circumstances so that you are motivated and at liberty to fully devote your talents to a purpose.” 

That’s a mouthful! Let’s break it down.

Being confident in your ability

That means:

  • You are well trained.
  • You know what you need to do. 
  • You have the tools to be able to do that thing.

As leaders, we often assume this of our people. In the past, I have assumed that people were just going to come fully prepared and equipped out of the box. While there are talented people that are working for you with great potential, as leaders it is our responsibility to make sure that our team is confident in their ability.

Encouraged by your circumstances

What does this mean? It’s a general term that could include a lot of things. In his book, Monty specifically defines it as:

“People will feel encouraged by their circumstances when they are inspired by a vision, when they know that their leader finds them essential to bringing the vision to reality, when their leader knows them, believes in them, is committed to them, insists on their success, cares about them, teaches them, helps them, supports them, listens to them, and challenges them.”

That last part about challenge is interesting. At first, it may not seem to fit in with the rest of Monty’s definition. However, it couldn’t be more crucial.

Something that we talk about here at Of the Sea is how important it is for you to feel secure. It’s less important for you to feel comfortable. There are moments where comfort is nice, refreshing. 

But in terms of living up to your fullest potential, comfort is not really your friend.

Challenge is your friend.

Pressure is your friend. 

. . . the right kind, anyway. Inside an environment where you are being trained and supported, where you know your team and leaders have your back, you should challenge yourself and challenge others around you. That is how we become our best.


Living up to your personal and organization’s fullest potential depends on motivation. But where does it come from? I believe it is generally intrinsic, but can be encouraged and supported extrinsically. That is a piece of the responsibility of leadership. 

Victor Frankl, Holocaust survivor and psychologist, came up with the concept of logotherapy. Inspired by his time in concentration camps, the idea is that life is inherently meaningful and you can find meaning in any circumstance, even the most dreadful and dire. A big component to Frankl’s concept of meaning was seeing yourself as responsible for the things you can control, and doing your best to live up to that responsibility. 

When you do that, you derive meaning and motivation from your life. As leaders, we have a responsibility to create an environment that will allow people to find meaning in their work. 

Liberty to fully devote your talents

“ . . . at liberty” – you’re free! Free to explore, free to make mistakes, free to try something new. I believe that freedom is a critical element to empowerment. You cannot be empowered without the sense of freedom and self-determination. 

Earlier, I mentioned the important responsibility leaders have to challenge others. I think it is equally as important to identify and honor those people’s talents. Furthermore, to support them in a way so that they are motivated and feel they have the ability to truly devote to a cause. Because, at the end of the day, it’s their choice to do so. 

Only you can prevent forest fires. And only you can determine whether you are going to devote yourself to something.

And finally, purpose

I believe it’s a two-sided coin. 

One, “purpose” refers to the purpose of the organization. Do you know what yours is? You’re not going to devote yourself to something you’re unaware of! You may happen to subconsciously wander towards it. But you’ll never truly reach the destination.

And two, “purpose” refers to the purpose of the individual, with their unique abilities and perspectives in their specific role. Every role must have a noble purpose that contributes to the greater one of the organization. As leaders, we must go all the way down and identify each of those purposes. It is our responsibility to share them with the people in those roles. 

Be thorough! You’ll regret cutting corners here.

Make the decision

Empowerment isn’t easy. It requires a lot of effort and intention. It requires trying things, and sometimes getting it wrong, but always coming back and trying again. 

You must be undeniably committed. 

It’s a decision I’ve made at Of the Sea. Through enough experience seeing things not work out the way I thought they could, I made a choice to focus on empowerment. But only because I encountered new ideas and new people that helped me understand. 

We’re all on that same kind of journey. So I would encourage you to take a real close look at your organization and your leadership. Ask yourself, “Is this really a culture of empowerment?” And pick up Monty’s book, Love Is Free. Guac is Extra. It’ll make a difference in your organization.

I guarantee it.