Empowering our People

Empowering our People

I recently had the opportunity to speak at an event about empowerment, created by All Women Lead. It was such a fulfilling experience and I had the opportunity to meet some great ladies. I was honoured to be speaking with other amazing women and hearing their stories as well. I have included some of the highlights from that engagement below. I have outlined what empowerment means to be and how I strive to empower others.

What is Empowerment to me?

Bringing your entire self to work: I am a Muslim, a Pakistani-Canadian, a woman of color, a sister, a daughter, an aunt, a friend.  I have anxiety and must actively manage it for me to continue to produce and perform at the levels expected of me. I am an introvert who derives energy from having some personal space.  Good or bad, these are all the different parts of me. So, you see – I have multiple identities and it’s the sum of these identities, skills and experiences that make up a whole person and inform what and who are important to me and who else in my life I have to show up for and how that might affect my mood or performance one day. We all have so many different identities and wear so many hats, and all those role’s influence who we are in our jobs as well.  Having the ability to come to work and be who you are is such a fundamental part of feeling empowered. For so long, people used to hide these parts of themselves.

The pandemic has shone a light into the multiple roles that we play because there is no separation of work and home anymore.  Personally, I found it was refreshing to be in a meeting and have someone’s kids show up behind them on a call, or a pet come on to the screen.  It finally gave us a window into their lives as people, their struggles as people.

Being able to make choices: To me, feeling empowered is about making choices.  It’s about choosing what you can say no to, it’s about understanding what your capacity is to say yes and most importantly its about having the confidence in your decisions to own them. People want permission and are afraid to set these boundaries and make these decisions without feeling like they are going to be supported and not punished for any of those decisions. 

How can we empower our people?

As leaders, we can facilitate and support their empowerment through our relationships, feedback and clear direction.

Relationships: Establishing relationships, making connections and holding space for people are so important to facilitating that that support.   Taking the time to know the individuals on your team, demonstrating concern for both work and non-working related problems, and ensuring that each team member feels like they feel supported a sense of belonging are all important ways to engage at a more personal level. It’s remarkable what people will share and how much insight that can provide you. It also gives you a chance to monitor workload and ensure that the person is feeling balance in their life.  

We have all heard this concept about leading with empathy, and just recently I read a Harvard Business Review article on this topic.  As leaders, we must evolve from empathetic leadership to compassionate leadership and while those sound like the same, they aren’t.  Empathetic leadership is feeling with the person and literally taking on the emotions of the other person and make those feelings your own.  While a nice thing to do, its not aiding the empowerment of another person.  And it can often lead to bad decisions and be a poor guide for leaders as well.  That doesn’t mean we can’t be empathetic but using it and taking it further is key to facilitating and encouraging empowerment.

Instead, coming from a place of compassion allows you to ask the question:  What can I do to help? That empowers them to tell you in their own words what they need from you.   You are stepping away from the emotion of it and going right into intervention, which is far more productive for both people.  I find myself sometimes emotionally exhausted from dealing with other peoples’ issues and while I still care and want to help and support, we also need to practice self-care and have boundaries as well.

Feedback: Feedback in another powerful tool that I leverage to provide me to further their self-awareness and ultimately expand their level of empowerment.  Knowledge is power.  The more you know about yourself the better.    Someone told me early in my career that feedback is a gift.  And like some of those shitty gifts you get, you may not want it because it was packaged poorly, and it was not it was generic and not tailored to you.  In the words of Brene Brown – Clear is kind.  Be clear with your feedback and be honest. It is the kindest thing that you can do for a person. Ensure that is connected to what their overall goals and where they have asked for the help.  I often like to align in advance of a presentation or a project and ask them directly what are you trying to achieve and what does success look like to you?  And that provides me with some guidelines on how to evaluate them.

Clear Goals and Priorities: The last and most important way in which you can empower them is by being clear with goals and business priorities.  Being clear on what they are being evaluated on and what are absolute priorities are, allows them to say no to things that aren’t necessary.  Let’s be honest if organizations let us, we could work all day, every day.  That’s why its so important to set priorities and focus on the most important things.

I will end with my absolute favourite quote by Maya Angelou.   “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”