Coach’s Challenge for June 11, 2007
Good day, team,
This week, I’d like to talk about empowerment, a word that’s used a lot in business these days. Here’s one definition:
“Empowerment refers to increasing the spiritual, political, social or economic strength of individuals and communities. It often involves the empowered developing confidence in their own capacities.”
Recent research suggests that exercising personal discretion and completing meaningful work engages employees and contributes to their well-being. There is evidence (Thomas and Velthouse, 1990) that initiative and motivation increase when people can control their circumstances. This empowerment influences their belief in themselves, resilience when faced with set-backs, and ability to visualize themselves overcoming problems. Many employers value and encourage the personal development-continuous learning, increased self-awareness and emotional intelligence-that fosters individual empowerment.
So what tends to make us feel like our power is being taken away? Certainly, situations in which we can clearly see that others are not telling the truth or we feel that telling the truth ourselves would bring us harm. Perhaps the truth is plain to see, but no one is addressing it: the elephant in the room. Perhaps we experience the emperor with no clothes phenomenon: people who present themselves one way, when in fact, they are exactly the opposite, and everyone pretends that what’s obvious isn’t there.
We can lose our power in more subtle ways as well; for example, if we’re asked to support a company policy or decision that we know is not right. If we don’t support it, we fear we might be left out or ostracized, part of that unenviable group of people who are no longer promoted or sought out for advice. We also lose power by pretending. A client of mine who attended a Harvard University executive program saw this graffiti in the men’s bathroom: “What are we pretending not to know?” This is a wonderful question in regard to empowerment. If our energy goes into pretending that we don’t know something, it’s usually because we are afraid to say what we do know. It’s that fear that robs us of our inherent power in the moment to act on the truth.
Is it possible to maintain our power and dignity in these circumstances without jeopardizing our livelihood and careers? I believe that empowerment has everything to do with how we feel about ourselves each moment. You may be sitting in a meeting and the elephant hooting loudly, with no one even glancing at it, thinking to yourself, “Why is everyone in denial about this when it’s so plain to see?” It doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be the one person in the room who reveals that which is so obvious. I do believe it’s important not to ignore what you know. It’s also important to assess a situation and act according to your intuition. Sometimes it’s appropriate to let the emperor know he’s naked, and other times it’s not. But having the courage to act when we know it’s appropriate is how we keep our power intact. To be empowered is to not lose our internal weathervane, no matter which way the wind is blowing.
Empowerment is ultimately driven by our belief that we can influence events. Practices such as yoga and meditation that increase self-awareness and awareness of the world around us help us to feel connected in a way that increases our personal power. Contemplation and prayer can do the same.
This week, try not to lose your power. Whether it’s to another person or a situation, try holding to what you know is true and to not be afraid of that knowledge and the actions that may spring from it. As one of my favorite poets, Rainer Maria Rilke, wrote, “Take your practiced powers and stretch them out until they span the chasm between two contradictions… .for God wants to know himself in you.”
Have a great week!
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