Empowerment – What are We Afraid Of?

 

Why Do It?

Empowerment seems to have become an over-used term, often regarded as too vague or fluffy. So what is the real meaning of empowerment and why do it? According to dictionary definitions, there are two sides to the empowerment coin. One is to invest someone with power or authority; in other words, to delegate. The other meaning is to equip them with the ability to use that power and authority.

Proponents of empowerment have hard-edged economic outcomes in mind, going beyond the goals of increasing happiness and satisfaction of individuals. They’re also seeking the practical and strategic goals of organizational innovation, customer problem solving and lifting productivity. They see empowerment as a path to increase pro-activity, autonomy and a sense of ownership throughout the company.

In today’s business world, the demand for agility and fast learning within teams and across organizations is even higher. In the face of the VUCA world (it’s volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous), the ability to gain and discard knowledge, and to act without certainty or pre-established rules, is essential for survival and makes ‘empowerment’ a no-brainer.

“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” –Steve Jobs

Why Not ‘Just Do It’? (or, what leaders are afraid of)

If the benefits of empowerment are so clear, why don’t we all ‘just do it’? What stops us from building a culture of empowerment? Maybe it’s the fear of what could go wrong – what if I empower people and they go too far and make a mess of things? After all, as a leader, you’re the one responsible for making sure that things run well. However, that fear of what might go wrong can lead to too much control, often called micromanaging, and that’s disempowering to others, who end up feeling their contribution is unimportant.

People need to have confidence that they have the resources to act and solve a problem. For that reason, the leadership mindset of ‘how do I set them up for success’ (rather than telling them how to do it), is at the heart of the matter. We must face our own fear of what might happen when we relinquish control, and do it anyway. As the economist, Friedrich August von Hayec, said, “Our faith in freedom does not rest on the foreseeable results in particular circumstances, but on the belief that it will, on balance, release more forces for the good than for the bad…. Freedom granted only when it is known beforehand that its effects will be beneficial is not freedom.”

Forgotten Power (or, what we’re all afraid of)

It’s not only hesitation to relinquishing control in management that hampers the road to empowerment. Many people in organizational life at all levels have simply forgotten their own power. They have learnt to buckle under, to stick to the known  and many live in fear. They fear their boss, fear losing their job, fear not getting on with their colleagues, fear failure… and this leads to a learnt helplessness and a lack of self-empowerment, often based on rational choices. You, as a manager, might begin to provide a culture of empowerment and find that your employees don’t take the initiative. This is because of learnt helplessness that has developed over the years. Employees with this challenge can be likened to the Thai elephants who were tethered with an 18-foot lead from the time they were young and didn’t discover they could break the tether as they grew stronger; even as adults without the tether, they won’t go further than 18 feet. Like this, in the context of organisations , we can fail to see how much choice and how much strength we actually possess.

These preconceptions of our own power can mean good intentioned “giving”  of empowerment results in cynicism and even panic in the team. People might not see the benefits of empowerment, and only see unguided and unresourced work,  which will cause them to feel panicked and unprepared. Human beings exist in three states: the comfort zone, where we function automatically, comfortably and often without even thinking; the stretch zone, which is the learning zone where we are consciously thinking about what we’re doing and applying effort to it; and finally, the panic zone, where things are overwhelming and happening too quickly and we are unable to think clearly.

What Motivates People?

A leader’s responsibility is to help people to expand their stretch zone: where they can learn, grow and be empowered. In the stretch zone, we’re curious, open, engaged, pro-active and present; we listen, experiment, learn and practice. This is a level of consciousness beyond the auto-pilot of sleep-walking through our workday.

The good news is that people want this level of consciousness for themselves. We all yearn for work that engages us this way. Take the work of Shawn Achor and Dan Pink . They notice people being productive in happinessand motivated by autonomy, mastery and purpose.

But there is a hurdle to overcome, as we each must tackle the fear of failure that dominates so many of our organizational cultures. While most human beings want to do nothing but the right thing, our organizations hold fear as a driver, and in that context, people fear the eye of criticism far more constantly than they feel a hand of support at their back.

In the words of Benjamin Zander, who believes in giving his students an “A” at the beginning of class and then letting them live up to it —  practicing the art of possibility in the very words we use to encourage and teach others (https://youtu.be/qTKEBygQic0). That’s an environment where empowerment can thrive.

High Delegation + High Support

It’s important to make sure that employees don’t feel that they’re being “empowered”  to do more work without having the capability, resources and support for it. Like the metaphor of driving, if we want people to take high responsibility for how they drive their car, for the safety of their car and for their passengers, as we all do? for others on the road, then agreed upon rules and support for learning are also required. We call this ‘freedom within a framework’.

What does this high delegation and high support require in the context of your leadership and your teaming?

If you want to empower others, you should ask yourself how you can serve the happiness and empowerment of your colleagues and your teams. How can you make a difference? Consider the impact your own behavior has on others. Each of your conversations can bring increased power to the other person. Increasing both the authority given to the other person and your support will increase that person’s self-responsibility and sense of ‘I can do it’. Increased self-responsibility increases a person’s capability to live in the stretch zone.

One Conversation at a Time

By tacking  this “One Conversation At a Time ” you cannot go wrong. You can change the culture of an organization step by step, one conversation at a time. You control yourself and your actions. If you don’t get it right the first time around, you can come back at it again and again. There is no  a ‘wrong thing’ to do, there is only learning.

Three types of mutually empowering conversations are  :

  1. More Authentic Appreciation                                                                                              There are many times we think something positive about a member of our team, but we never actually voice it. The key to authentic appreciation is to be specific. Instead of saying, “Thank you for your work on this,” consider saying, “Meghan, last week when you offered to help me with my project, I felt really supported and relieved, whereas before I had felt stressed and overwhelmed. You have helped me a lot.Thank you.”                                                                                                                                                             cathy-pic-1
  2. More Inquiry                                                                                                                                  Put yourself in the shoes of the other person and ask that person to explain whatever you need to understand their. Be curious about what is happening for them  especially when something goes wrong. Discover their perspective and listen to them with patience.                                                                                                                                             cathy-pic-2
  3. Mutual Learning Conversations                                                                                                        These are conversations that are set up to solve a problem together, while always empowering and supporting the other person. Use phrases like: “What would you like to have happen?” “Given that, what is under your control?” “What could you do?” and “What help can I offer to help you achieve that outcome?” You can also ask questions that empower them to be part of the solution, putting themselves in the picture. That’s empowering.                                                                                                                cathy-pic-3

 

And, in summary, these tips…

  • Listen, be curious, ask people what they think
  • Give honest and appreciative feedback as a way of life; catch people doing good
  • Freedom within a framework, be highly transparent about boundaries and expectations (not about the details)
  • Magnify courageous actions, expand confidence that risk taking is learning, is worthwhile
  • Encourage what is under their control, rather than focusing on them and theirs, look at me and mine, we and ours
  • Be available for mutual learning conversations
  • Put your “red pen” away

As a leader, asking yourself, “What will I do to serve the happiness and engagement of my colleagues and my team today?” – that’s empowerment.

 

 

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Language and the Pursuit of Happiness

“There is a world out there, and we speak about it.”  Most of us grew up with that story.

As I learned more about how human beings make sense of the world, I came across a concept that much more truthfully describes the process. “We only see out there the world that we can speak about.”  Is that possible?

Think for a moment about having a language for things, in the power of distinctions. For example, imagine for a second you raise the hood of your car. If you are like the vast majority of people I know, you will see “an engine and stuff”. In the face of a problem with your car, you will probably as a next step close the hood and call for help. Your friend Joe, who is an amateur mechanic, will notice something completely different. He will notice the spark plugs  or the injectors, the crankshaft, the pulleys, the water pump, the radiator, etc. In his world, the system makes sense, he understands the harmony or lack thereof, the interdependencies, what is a condition for what, what certain symptoms mean in terms of possible causes. Joe has a capacity to intervene in the system that you don’t; he has distinctions you don’t. He can “see” what you can’t because he has a language for it. Finally, he can fix the engine while you can’t.

Extrapolate this to your current life, at work and beyond. You walk around trying to produce results you desire. You want to be happy. What’s wrong with that after all? Sometimes it works for you; other  times it doesn’t. Why is that; what is going on? I want to postulate that you walk around using “filters” through which you look at the world. These make things appear to you in a certain way, and they have limitations, they have poor distinctions, outgrown by the context of increasing complexity and interdependence, therefore standing in the way of your accomplishments and your happiness.

richi-article

Let me address some of these filters. By using more powerful lenses you will unleash creative energy that will enable you to effectively pursue your dreams.

The filter of certainty 

You have grown up doing three things:

  1. making stories about events you observe in the world
  2. believing these stories to be true (after all they are your stories…)
  3. forgetting you told these stories to yourself

You then walk around having opinions about almost everything, “knowing” what is going on. These constructs may have been useful at some point ; however, in the face of VUCA, they become outdated, useless. The context changes, but as you have grown oblivious and blind to your stories, you don’t question them . You continue to operate like they continue to be true.  The challenges and difficulties, the “not getting what we want” conditions,  start to show up pervasively. Then the response you give is to try (even) harder. You have the belief that if you keep at it long enough, if you keep striving, you will eventually succeed. Success becomes more and more elusive, and a tunnel vision ensues. You persist, struggling, pushing, toiling and … failing.

I want to offer that,  by taking one breath of awareness, you can reconnect with your cognitive limitations, your vulnerability, your bounded rationality. This can come across as weakness. I want to suggest that completely the opposite is true. In the midst of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA), questions become much more powerful than answers. By entering this space of humility and consciousness you may begin to inquire with the curiosity of a child, finding alternatives that before were completely out of your field of awareness.

I recently read a quote that moved me to tears  – “A creative adult is a child that survived.”  Can you survive your magical child spirit and grow into that adult that can question the world from a place of wonder and awe? Can you once again recreate the conditions so the child within can survive and prosper?

And just like that, having these distinctions, as in the initial example of peeking under the hood of a car, create richer options so you can successfully pursue your dreams.

The filter of “blaming others and the world” for my suffering 

“I was late to the meeting because of traffic.”  I am sure you heard this many times. Is it true? Of course it is, as most cities’  freeways we live and work in are crammed with cars every morning. I read a phrase very appropriate to describe this explanation: TBU  – “true but useless”. The generative question is “ What is your power to influence the system?” If you place causality on traffic it is very low . Unless the 500,000 careless drivers become more conscious  and decide not to pack the highways when it is your time to drive to work , you are doomed. Of course a voice inside your head is yelling, “ Just wake up earlier you lazy bum..” By focusing on parts of the system where you have higher leverage, you can produce results that are dependent on you. You become power-full rather than power-less. I often ask in our workshops the (rhetorical) question,  “How do you wish to live, as a powerless victim or a powerful player?”. Of course , 100% choose the latter. However, as I also often show them through role playing, the choice of being in  the driver’s seat comes with a cost, the cost of anxiety, of accountability ; we must be willing to endure the consequences of our actions as the price to pay for power, for being in control of our lives.

I suggest that this mindset of always “responding to challenges” offers an outlook of hope and inspiration. You are in charge of your life and choose moment by moment how you wish to respond to the circumstances that are presented to you. Between the action and re-action there is a space of consciousness. This process of becoming and acting in consequence can change your life forever. And,  as in our initial example, it boils down to having more powerful distinctions that create a richer field of possibilities.

Easy to say, not easy to do, but it must be done if we wish to pursue and accomplish a life of fullfilment, expansion and joy.

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Cultura Y Valores: Garantía Relevo Generacional

Ante el reto del relevo generacional una de las herramientas esenciales para encarar ese proceso de manera exitosa es realizar una profunda y precisa evaluación de la cultura corporativa y de los valores subyacentes.

Independientemente del tamaño y del sector en el que opere, una Empresa Familiar difícilmente podrá abordar el relevo generacional si los diferentes miembros de la empresa (trabajadores familiares y no familiares, accionistas activos, accionistas pasivos, etc..) no comparten unos mismos valores esenciales y tienen una visión compartida del tipo de Empresa Familiar que desean ser y cuál es su propósito o razón de existir.

El primer punto que nos puede ayudar a entender cuál es la cultura corporativa de nuestra Empresa Familiar, es preguntarnos cuál es el legado que queremos dejar a la siguiente generación, cuál es el propósito superior, más allá de la generación de beneficios con el que queremos contribuir y beneficiar a todos los stakeholders.

La cultura corporativa de las Empresas Familiares es el conjunto de valores y creencias fuertemente arraigados en la Empresa, y también en la familia que han permitido, a lo largo del tiempo, construir los principios por los que se rige la Empresa Familiar. Ese conjunto de valores y creencias nos aporta una guía y dirección que nos permite tomar las decisiones en cada momento.

Por este motivo es tan importante que las nuevas generaciones tengan conocimiento de estos aspectos ya que el conocimiento compartido ayudará a entender el tipo de Empresa Familiar que queremos ser en el futuro.

Sin embargo, cada vez es más difícil comunicar de manera efectiva este conjunto de valores que configuran la cultura corporativa de las Empresas Familiares. A medida que la familia va creciendo, en muchos casos, se produce una dispersión geográfica y en muchos casos como consecuencia de lo anterior, también emocional que dificulta la transmisión de padres a hijos de aquellas historias que forman parte del ADN de la Empresa Familiar, y que se han convertido en ejemplos de los valores familiares.

Paradójicamente, hoy vivimos en un mundo hipercomunicado y, sin embargo, en ocasiones, no actuamos de manera consciente dejando de realizar una labor proactiva en lo que de verdad importa. El día a día dentro de la gestión de una Empresa Familiar está plagado de tareas urgentes que, en ocasiones, nos impiden ver el bosque. Tomar distancia, reflexionar sobre lo que verdaderamente importa, pensar de manera estratégica en el futuro son tareas ineludibles que los responsables de las Empresas Familiares no deben “dejar para mañana”

En nuestra experiencia trabajando con Empresas Familiares, en muchas ocasiones nos encontramos con empresarios familiares que entienden que deben articular canales de comunicación para compartir valores, para transmitir la cultura corporativa de la Empresa, sin embargo, les cuesta encontrar el momento idóneo.

No existe mayor palanca que nos permita trabajar alineados con el objetivo de afrontar con éxito el relevo generacional, que la palanca cultural, la palanca que permita mantener a la familia, al mismo tiempo, unida y conexionada en torno a los pilares que marcan la diferencia entre una Empresa Familiar y una Empresa Familiar longeva y exitosa.

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