I am yet to meet someone who doesn’t become uncomfortable about empowering someone else. Different people may have different levels of where that discomfort kicks in but everyone I know has a line, somewhere.
For some, it could be as simple as solving a particular problem at work. And for others the line is much deeper — a lot deeper even — but you’ll eventually hit a point where handing something over to someone else has pushed them out of their comfort zone — don’t believe me? Would you be comfortable asking a complete stranger to look after your kids for a week? I bet not, but that’s ok, we all have a line somewhere.
What this means is that there are conditions for empowerment to happen and one of those is establishing trust. However trust doesn’t just magically happen, and yes you can trust someone from the offset but you’ll still face a line where discomfort sets in — the point where the voice of doubt kicks in and asks if that trust is misplaced.
I commonly see a variation of this play out in organizations which I refer to as “the trust-paradox”.
This chicken-and-egg situation requires one side to make a move first. Either trust is established via other means to the side empowering need to give blind trust, and that takes courage.
“the ability to do something that frightens one; bravery.”
I recently had my own bout with the courage that empowerment often demands.
Parenting is the best analogy for leadership — something that I’ve always believed but just over two years ago I started living it when my son was born.
About 18 months later my wife and I had discovered the Montessori method. One of the things that immediately resonated with us was just how much their methods focus on empowering kids and creating the environment for autonomy — no surprise there!
One of the things that Montessori advocates for is for children to have their own bed, not a cot, not a crib, but a bed. One which they can climb in and out of themselves. With my son turning two my wife and I decided that it was time to ditch the cot and upgrade him to a bed inline with what Montessori advocates for — one where he can climb in and out of.
However, just to paint the scene a little bit, our son is a ball of energy! Like most toddlers, you turn you back on him for a second and the house will be a mess.
Just look at 90 minutes into my workday this is my study — chaos!
My wife was super keen for the bed but I had reservations — I mean putting our son to bed every night consisted of chasing him around the house for 15 minutes before we finally get him into his room, then a further 10–15 minutes struggle into the bed. Once that’s all said and done it wouldn’t be unusual if we spent the next hour returning to the room regularly to comfort a crying toddler.
You can see my hesitation.
I had constructed this vision in my head of constantly having to chase my son around the house, put him back into a bed only to have him immediately climb straight out of! To put it simply, it was not the ideal vision I had for how I like to spend my evenings.
But as the definition of the word ‘courage’ states — it is not the absence of fear, rather it is the ability to not be paralyzed by it. To feel fear, accept it for what it is, and to do it anyways.
In the end, I didn’t let my fears stop me — we bought the bed.
However, I’m sure if you ask my wife, she’ll tell you that I didn’t have any say in the matter anyways.
A week later the dreaded delivery day rolls around and after a few hours we had the bed assembled (yes we assembled it. No, it wasn't IKEA — I’m not that good at assembling furniture!)
As the day turned to evening, bedtime came around and so began what I thought was going to be the saga that would be the next 12 months of my life.
However, like many things the reality ended up being nowhere near that nightmare of a mental image I had constructed.
We took our son to bed and he immediately embraced the new bed, the new autonomy. He jumped straight into bed and happily stayed there until he fell asleep. Zero dramas.
And that’s been the case ever since. It's now been over 160 nights we’ve had the bed, and I can only account for 2 evenings where we had difficulty. In fact, we now simply tell him it’s bedtime and he puts himself to bed!
Truth is, I know this.
I’ve also seen this play out in the workplace hundreds of times, but it still didn’t make the process any easier — upgrading my son’s bed was a reminder of that.
I had even read about all the benefits of giving him a bed like that. But reading the theory and even testimonies of other parents still doesn’t always silence the voice in your head that whispers, “sure, but not with our son!”
Empowerment is hard because courage is.
But empowerment is worth the risk. This is another lesson I continue to learn and take away from this experience — just how important empowerment is.
Putting our son to bed each evening has never been easier since getting that bed.
It just takes the courage to take that leap of faith.
The courage to feel fear but do it anyways — to buy that bed and if it all goes pear-shaped, you’ll deal with it then. But I’ll assure you that nine times out of ten when you give a little autonomy and empowerment, people will surprise you — even a toddler!