Empowering Leaders: Checking the Ego and Sharing Power

I’m currently working in St. Lucia with a group of undergraduate students facilitating a leadership academy for St. Lucian teens.  On day one of the academy, one of the more experienced teenagers asked the university students, “What is the best way for a leader to empower someone?”  The college student didn’t know how to answer that. I didn’t know how to answer that. After some thought though, this is what I came up with.  

Regardless of where one places themselves on the spectrum of leadership, we all empower others. This process is an important one.  Whether a formal leader, an informal leader, and elected official, or someone leading from within a group, how we empower others displays a lot about the outcomes of our leadership and who we are as human beings.  To empower allows someone to obtain agency and take ownership of power in their work and life.  The unspoken piece of empowerment is not about one person assisting another, but how they both possess power.   We often think that power can only be obtained by certain people and is passed around but, similar to love, power is limitless. I feel that Frederic Laloux says it best in his book, Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organization by Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness:

“…the right question is not: how can everyone have equal power? It is rather: how can everyone be powerful? Power is not viewed as a zero-sum game, where the power I have is necessarily power taken away from you. Instead, if we acknowledge that we are all interconnected, the more powerful you are, the more powerful I can become. The more powerfully you advance the organization’s purpose, the more opportunities will open up for me to make contributions of my own.”

We often think that power can only be obtained by certain people and is passed around but, similar to love, power is limitless.

So, taking this power-sharing theory as truth and asking the question, how can everyone be powerful? We must reassess how we execute empowering people and what responsibility we hold as a leader in the empowerment process.

The reassessment of how we empower others is easy.  It comes from our ability to access our humility and empathy.  When we know we are not gods and go through similar situation as other human beings, our paths become clear. Acknowledging our humility and empathy forces the ego to check itself.  Great leaders understand their ego has no place in the actions of a leader.  If we are to ensure that everyone is powerful, our ego should be muzzled and put away.

The responsibility of a leader in the empowerment process becomes more important when the goal is to make everyone powerful. Just like the ego of the leader or mentor, the person journeying through the threshold of empowerment must also check their ego.  The leader must be gentle in this process but also strict.  Letting an ego be more vocal is often a behavior that may never get corrected. The best villains, Darth Vader, Cruella de Vil, Ursula, were all individuals who were empowered but never had their ego checked in the power management process.

Another responsibility a leader has in this process, and always for leaders, is that they must lead by example.  We must always lead by example. There isn’t much more to say than that. Walking the walk and talking the talk is integrity.  It is the responsibility of the leader to hold themselves and those they are empowering, to be accountable and upkeep their integrity.

Most important, it is the responsibility of the leaders to be an advocate and ally for those gaining power or without power completely. Being an ally and advocating for people is the best way to actually empower others. Advocacy shines light on those who are not being heard and can contribute greatness to society. When these marginalized people are recognized and empowered, then we continue with checking egos, leading by example, holding integrity, and then advocating for others.

This major shift of looking at empowerment is needed now more than ever.  As we find ourselves in an extremely reactive presidential election, we must question who really wants to make everyone powerful and who wants to continue a false sense of empowerment where only a select few are empowered.  We must combine our voices and venture into a world where everyone is confident in their shared power.  

Once we know our individual power in our interconnectedness, we can create a true future for everyone.

Gregg Potter

Potter resides in Madison, WI and is field director for Peacework International and the founder of a consulting and project management firm called Project Kinect.

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