Do you Empower?

I consider myself extremely lucky when I look back at the managers I worked with until now, but I haven’t always thought that way.

The managers I worked with used to trust me enough to leave me with enough autonomy so I didn’t feel them breathing on my neck and were more interested in results and me doing a good job more than knowing and dictating what I should be doing during every walking moment. But that came with a price.

I remember feeling frustrated when coming to see Thomas to ask him for answers to difficult issues, and only be greeted by the question: “What do YOU think you should do?”

Time after time, I was coming to him to get an easy and quick answer, and time after time, I felt it escaping me. And the worst part was that in most of the cases, I realised I did actually have an answer, at least for a first step. And in the cases I still came up with an “I don’t know”, Tom was usually finishing me off with a “Then how could you find out?”

And time after time, I was going back to my desk grumbling and thinking that he was escaping his responsibilities as a manager. But his approach worked. I came to see him less and less often. Took more decisions myself and over time was handed over more and more important projects.

I also noticed that despite the frustration, every time, I stood with a straighter back, and always felt more grounded after speaking with him.

It was only some years later that another person spelled it out for me.

I went to see my company managing director Steve Cahill to offer him to implement a new initiative to promote leadership in the company. He listened to me carefully. Showed his appreciation for the parts he liked and then tactfully pointed out the areas where I had made wrong assumptions and followed a path that wasn’t in line with the company’s needs. I took note and asked him how he would like me to redirect the initiative.

I still remember his answer.

He told me: “Sure, I could tell you how to do it, but I won’t. There are already enough people ready to take your power away from you and I don’t want to do that. I would rather you use your own power and come up with your own solution”

I kept this thought deep inside me and keep remembering it whenever I am facing difficult situations., and to this day, I am still very grateful to all the people I worked with who didn’t take the easy path and took my power away but made the effort to point me in the direction of empowerment.

Next time you are facing a delicate issue, before you hand over your power to your manager or anyone else who can give you an easy answer, stop for a moment and ask yourself: “What do YOU think you should do?” and if you don’t know, “How could you find out?”

And if you are the one being asked, before you answer a question, ask yourself “Are you going to empower someone or take his power away?”

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