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Three Empowerment Techniques

Three simple ways you won’t have thought of to help someone empower themselves at work

OK, you might have thought of some of these, but they’re so simple, and so effective, that they often seem to get overlooked and are definitely worth repeating.

First things first, notice that it’s about helping someone to empower themselves, not doing it for them (which is actually disempowering). I reckon a lot of corporate programmes fall down right at this first hurdle, trying to spoon-feed empowerment to their staff instead of creating the conditions in which people want to take power for themselves. Perhaps that second option is just a bit too scary in some organisations?

1. Ask for their help

Nothing helps people realise what they’re capable of better than an opportunity to help somebody else. If you can do this in a way that is genuine, i.e. on something where you really do need their help, that’s good. If you can do it in a way that shows that asking for help is itself an act of strength, not weakness, even better.

2. Tell them what you see

This one is really so sweet and so powerful that it should come with a government health warning! People take themselves for granted. They forget about their good qualities and they focus on the things that they don’t like about themselves. You can change that in an instant with this way of giving people recognition.

Take a moment to remind someone about a resourceful quality of theirs that you have noticed them using. The format is really simple, but does take some guts to use. It goes like this: “I noticed that you were really [resourceful quality] during [recent situation]; that’s a great quality to have.”  Here’s an example of the kind of thing I’ll say to the barista in my coffee shop, just for practice:

I noticed that you were really calm and helpful with that difficult customer just now. That’s a great quality to have.

3. Be kind in their presence

Everybody knows by now that acts of kindness are contagious; when you see someone being kind you tend to pay it forwards yourself.  People are less aware that there’s an unconscious association of kindness with resourcefulness. It’s like part of your brain says to itself: “Oh, I’ve just been kind! I must have the strength of mind and physical resources that mean I can spare some for others”. Whenever you get the chance, role-model this for people and use the contagious power of kindness to remind people just how resourceful they really are.

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Coaching Techniques

Coaching with clients’ symbolic non-verbal cues with respect and empowerment

One of the many things I love when I’m one-to-one coaching is when clients unconsciously start drawing shapes in the air, or writing on an imaginary whiteboard or using their hands to position symbolic thoughts, people and objects in different places around themselves. It’s clear that people’s hands and bodies are directly connected to the inner workings of their mind and are often able to represent things quicker and with more clarity than words alone can do.

In my experience, all the qualities of these shapes, diagrams, air-writings and positionings are great doorways into deeper understanding and will open up many new possibilities for insight and action with my client, if I treat them right.


I always try to be really respectful of what they’ve just ‘drawn’ and to not impose my own frame of reference on things. Here’s a technique that I like to use which I believe really helps to get more insight and action, without me the coach getting in the way.

Because my client is often sitting across from, not next to me, I’m not seeing what they’ve ‘drawn’ from their perspective. Suppose I want to ask something like this, so we can get deeper into what it means:

“I notice that you just drew that as a kind of curve; whereabouts are you on the shape of that curve?”

And as I ask that question, I’ll usually want to redraw that curve for them, so they can see it again for themselves but consciously this time.

Here’s the important bit – I reverse the frame of reference so that I’m mirroring, not reproducing what clients have done.

If they’ve drawn that curve in the air from their left-to-right, I’ll redraw it, but from my right-to-left. If they’ve picked-up an imaginary object, person or idea and moved it over to their left, I’ll play that back to them, but make sure that the thing I move also finishes-up on their left. I imagine that I’m tracing whatever they did back to them, from the other side of a glass whiteboard.

I believe that this approach is so crucial, because I don’t want it to be my thing – what I do want is to empower them to get more understanding about the thing they ‘drew’ or ‘moved’.
 

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Beyond Impostor Syndrome

On the other side of impostor syndrome lies great possibility. Don’t just settle for the comfort of overcoming it, go beyond.

Almost everybody trying to do something challenging or worthwhile will at some point have felt that sense of Impostor Syndrome.

This is where people are looking to you to achieve something, but inside you don’t feel all that confident. You might worry that people will find out you’re just making it up as you go along, or you might somehow regard yourself as a fake because you don’t know all the answers. Or you might just tend to put down your successes to a one-off piece of luck.

Working on overcoming impostor syndrome is a great thing to do with your coach. But, my experience with clients has taught me that there’s a place even beyond that.

When I’m working with aspirational leaders who really want to make a difference and to have a positive impact, I invite them to not just settle for overcoming impostor syndrome, but to go way beyond.

On the other side is a way of leading that allows people to be really true to themselves, to not have to ‘fake’ anything and, at the same time, to be able to meet the leadership needs of the people around them. This is a gorgeous bit of work to be able to do. It’s about finding what your true strengths are, what your character is really about, and then seeing how it feels to apply that in ways that suit your circumstances.

The impact you can have when people get that you’re leading in a way that matches what they need and is totally genuine and true to who you are, is astonishing.

Like anything that’s really empowering, going beyond impostor syndrome to that place of fully-integrated leadership can be a scary transition. But, if you want it, it’s definitely worth the journey. Don’t just settle for the comfortable feeling of overcoming impostor syndrome, dare to go beyond.

When I let go of what I am,

I become what I might be.

Lao Tzu


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