Hmmmm what a challenge eh – being an empowering leader. Many amazing leaders I know have become so because of their direct style and ability to ‘get things done’. Great! And quite often this style is perfect for an organisational context that needs a strong, clear direction.
What if the context though – and more importantly the feedback – is now saying something different?
I’ve had many conversations over the last few weeks with clients and others who have totally understandable challenges in making this transition. Especially those who work in a very politicised and/or heavily regulated industry. The reason I say this is because these environments tend to thrive in rigidity, fear and resentment – empowerment however doesn’t – and thus lies on the other side of this. So how does one find the balance between effective corporate governance and creating a truly empowered organisation?
For me empowerment is the freeing up of myself and others to self solve, step forward, speak up, participate, create – essentially knowing we are free to BE ourselves. Thus it’s vital an organisation can create a context of openness, trust and courage. Only then will people learn to trust their capability, capacity and ability to handle whatever comes up – and get creative.
This is where high performing teams can powerfully emerge – teams knowing the importance of honesty and openness. Teams who recognise relationships are vital and make time to clear up clashes and misunderstandings so they can get back in the game – together.
FEAR is at the essence of this empowerment challenge, the basic reality of human condition that wants negate the fear of failure and protect oneself. The tragedy is that this mindset closes down openness, trust and courage and thus opportunities for higher performance, innovation and growth.
I put it to you my friends that these fears are an illusion. A lens through which we choose to see the world – and then act accordingly, reacting and behaving as if it’s true.
More often than not I see these fears played out by leaders wanting to create solutions or policies behind closed doors that create empowerment. However, isn’t this disempowering? Isn’t this another way to repeat the same fearful behaviour? How are stakeholders, teams included…engaged, PART OF the creation – rather than back to the old form of ‘consultation’ where the conversation may likely be already closed.
Of course it’s important to have clarity about the purpose, context and barriers. However for me the spirit of empowerment is much more than this. It’s an attitude of trust, openness and a willingness to be uncomfortable with one’s fears. To risk, to have the courage to role model a different way – even if it doesn’t work or create our hopes. I’ve found that being willing to trust the process and ride this rollercoaster takes courage and builds resilience! The great thing is that we will always get feedback, in one form or another, as to what’s working and what isn’t.
One of things I learnt last year about my own leadership (which quite honestly I have found extremely frightening at times) is that not I, nor anyone else, know the future. I can hope, dream, aspire, predict – give it my all – however I have no idea whether any of what I want will transpire. So I’m mostly feeling the fear and going for what I want – willing to risk never knowing the outcome. There’s a big difference between hoping and expecting. The former is open to possibility, the later a demand on the outcome.
Here’s my three T’s then, the qualities I’ve learnt and I’m continuously developing:
- Trust – patience, patience, patience…willingness to let go and trust myself, others, the process. A willingness to risk NEVER knowing the outcome. Hoping vs. Expecting
- Tenacity – the determination to keep going, keep the faith, trust that all is not lost if things don’t go my way. Including if there’s A LOT of course correcting, diversions, difficult choices to be made
- Truthfulness – being honest with myself and others when we have a success (yey!!) or something isn’t working. Telling the truth is the most liberating, freeing experience I find and the one that keeps me connected with myself and others. And in terms of empowerment is key to creating openness and courage – to be with things as they ARE not as we’d like them to be.
I’m aware too that we all have a personal responsibility in how we show up, interact and engage. Through the amazing coaching tools I have, I know I have the ability to empower myself and others – I don’t need to wait or be given this by some other person or circumstance. I am also aware that sometimes for me it can take a large amount of courage to do so – to trust, be tenacious and keep telling the truth.
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