What You Protect, You Make Weak – Empowerment Vs. Enabling

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Rule of Empowerment:

“Don’t do for others anything they can do for themselves.  Don’t say anything they already know.”

Rudolf Dreikurs

In order for people to live to highest potential, each has four core needs; to feel empowered, lovable, connected and contributing. A lack of any of these feelings results in a weak sense of belonging and significance, leading to discouragement and poor behavior, including under-performance.  In order for the four core needs to be met, a good leader, whether at work, school or home, must be skilledin transferring responsibility effectively in equal measure with freedom, and ensure social interest; sensitivity and responsiveness to the effect one has upon others and each person’s obligations for community living and mutual respect.

No matter who you lead, even if only yourself, it is critical to recognize destructive results when you neglect any of the four core needs. Common but often unrecognized ways we do so are by pampering, overprotecting, and spoiling.  I’m not referring to when we provide love, care, and appreciation or legitimate and reasonable support. I’m referring to when we rescue, shield and exempt others from fulfilling responsibilities and taking their rightful place in caring for others, without reasonable cause.  To do so can be as harmful as using harsh, punitive and controlling methods in an attempt to create good citizens. Enabling is getting between people and their life experiences to protect them when it’s not necessary or helpful. The rule of thumb is, “Don’t do for others what they can do for themselves and don’t say anything they already know.”

In your efforts to be a great manager, leader or parent, one of the most important skills you can learn is empowerment. Empowerment is turning responsibility and control over to people as soon as possible. This is communicated verbally and non-verbally.  One of the exercises I use in my work gives each an experience of how influential the choice between empowering and enabling.  I offer it to you in imagination here.

Imagine you are in one of two groups of managers.  I explain a volunteer is going to role-play with you in which he has not been doing his work. Group One is asked to offer enabling responses for about 60-90 seconds, while the employee simply listens.  Imagine you may be:  1. Offering to do anything he can do himself 2. Saying anything he already know 3. Over-protecting and rescuing 4. Lying for him 5. Punishing and controlling 6. Living in denial 7. Fixing 8. Bailing him out 9. Neglecting 10. Advising and coaxing 11. Making excuses 12. Hovering and warning as though there is danger everywhere.

The following questions are used to process with the employee:  “How were you feeling?  What decisions were you making about the authority figures? What decisions were you making about yourself? What were you deciding to do?” The following questions are used to process with the managers:  “How were you feeling? What decisions were you making about this employee? What decisions are you making about yourself?”

Next, empowering responses are offered from Group Two.  Imagine you may be:  1. Listening and giving emotional support 2. Validation without fixing or discounting 3. Teaching life skills 4. Working on issue at staff meetings 5. Letting go (without abandoning) 6. Deciding what you will do with respect. 7. Sticking to the issue 8. Asking questions (especially what and how questions) 9. Engaging in a joint problem-solving process 9. Sharing what you think, how you feel, and what you want (without lecturing, moralizing, insisting on agreement, or demanding anyone give you what you want) 10. Making positive assertions “I know you’ll have fun”, “You can do it”, “You know how to do this.”

I challenge you to set aside time to imagine yourself in each role and reflect upon your likely answers.  Now consider the role of Encouragement; cultivating courage within and authentic, caring use of power.  To rob one of courage is to cripple him.  If you would like to learn how to be firm and respectful, to develop responsible leaders of all ages and preserve their dignity and self-esteem, and empower without spoiling or crippling others, call me today.  I’m here to help and I commit to make sure you are successful in achieving your goals.

As published nationally in the column Emotional Intelligence in Women’s Journals June/July 2014

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