I’ve got another point of view on empowerment for you to dig into!
If you’re in a situation where someone is empowering you to do something, a relationship is automatically created. They are transferring decision-making and ownership to you and you are receiving it. Sometimes that goes well, and sometimes it doesn’t – either way the result usually has something to do with trust. In this reflection, Amie Bresnahan, Vestalia’s Associate Director of People Development, shares her past hits and misses with being empowered, and illustrates how a breakdown of trust in that relationship can get in her way of truly embracing empowerment.
Thank you for spending some time with this, and please let me know if you have any feedback or comments! -Becky
Empowerment – A Story of Challenge
by Amie Bresnahan, Vestalia Hospitality’s Associate Director of People Development, 4/24/19
Empowerment. What a cool concept. This term has presented itself several times throughout my professional career. I have experienced the practice of it, or at least a small version of the practice, throughout those years to varying levels of success. Cool concepts also generate various challenges.
When I reflect on my experience with empowerment I can conclude that I have understood it only as far as my direct supervisor would allow it to show up. Sometimes that meant I got to write a schedule and post it without review, but often was questioned on it after the fact. Another time it was allowing me to manage a team without having to report back every day on their work or progress, yet knowing that in times of challenge I had no one to turn to for help. At its most robust, empowerment has shown up for me when I am trusted to define and do my job while having very little direction and a lot of encouraging support.
Empowerment and trust are best friends. You cannot have one without the other. The organization needs to trust my ability to make decisions and do the work, or even find the work, that needs to be done. This trust comes from me demonstrating my skills, critical thinking, responsibility and reliability. Once the organization extends their trust to me, it is time for me to trust myself. This is where my challenge presents itself.
When I am struggling with empowerment it is usually because trust is missing in our relationship. I may feel like I have not learned enough about the task or job, that the support needed will not be there, or I feel like I have the ability to do the job but will not be given the room to do so. If I am in any one of these scenarios the story that I tell myself, which is based on past experience, says my work may not be accepted, valued and supported. That leads me to lack trust in myself, resulting in my confidence being tested and at times me getting stuck and unable to make progress. I start to look around for someone to tell me that what I am doing is good. True empowerment is then lost in my need for acceptance and approval. My internal story is a strong shadow side for me that I have to actively monitor and manage to keep in tune.
To manage my side of the empowerment and trust relationship I do some simple practices on a consistent basis to help me keep my story in check:
- I make internal commitments to myself and to the organization which I reevaluate often. I hold myself accountable by focusing on reliability and how I am showing up. I do what I say I am going to do. I do not need to announce or advertise this to anyone else, it is my commitment to me and my work.
- I pause and examine my viewpoint, especially when I feel strongly about something. When I feel that way I tend to rush to empowerment making fast decisions or quick judgements. These have often been challenged in the past, which indicated to me that I had missed some things and the organization did not trust my thought process. That made me question myself and I would lose trust in my ability. Now when I move fast I know it is time to slow down, even just for a moment, to make sure I have the whole picture.
- I reflect on my experiences and recognize my past accomplishments. This practice gives me the confidence to say “I know what I am doing” and can then move forward with being empowered without having to look for constant approval. A very practical way of doing this is by updating my resume on an annual basis. It helps me to reflect and recognize my own work.
In those times that I truly felt empowered I had full trust in myself that I could do the job to the best of my ability without the need for constant approval. This trust starts with knowing the organization believes I can do the job because the messaging I receive supports my work and provides a safe place to fail in case I do. My self-trust comes from staying aware and staying present in my practices. Together we build trust by reviewing, challenging and developing the process. This is a two way street of actively managing the trusting empowered relationship.
Being empowered is something I fully accept and it is where I find the most reward. For me it will forever be linked to my self-confidence and that is a journey I enjoying being on. I feel good about myself when I feel fully empowered. I feel good about the organization I am in when I am given the trust to be empowered.