There is no doubt empowerment is a buzzword in the education arena and beyond. It gets thrown around in leadership classes, interview tables, and administrative meetings. But where does empowerment come from?
How do we empower the people in our organization?
I am pretty sure every list of action steps starts with this word: listen. As we know, listening goes far beyond just being quiet. I test my listening skills, by using the phrase, “This is what I hear you saying…” The intent here is to ensure what I heard is really what the other person is saying. We want to avoid empowering people to do the wrong work. Having a clear starting point sets everyone up for success.
Ask for Solutions
If someone in your organization comes to you with a concern, try not to end the conversation until that person has the opportunity to present some possible solutions. Start the dialogue: “What ideas do you have for resolving this concern?” “What would be the ideal outcome of this situation?” There isn’t always a clear cut answer, but if the person has been thinking about this problem chances are they are ready to problem solve. This also keeps the leader, whether an administrator or teacher, from taking on the solution on their own. Leader centered solutions (again this applies to teachers in the classroom and leaders by title), can miss the mark and often create unsustainable systems. Empowerment lives in these spontaneous opportunities.
Personally, this is the hardest part. When you step back and let others take control, prepare yourself for a product that may not be exactly as you envisioned. Offer support and stay connected to the work, but allow for autonomy. Micromanagement is the opposite of empowerment. This does not mean you should settle for subpar product, but keep your purpose in mind. If the work is effective, get ready to celebrate.
If someone did a good job, make sure they know it. Intrinsic motivation is great, but acknowledgement just feels good. Share the good work of your team and give credit where credit is due.
Does your organization actually feel empowered? We collect a staff survey once a year and there is a question related to teacher leadership and empowerment. Full disclosure, this is probably something we could do better. But, there is a balance between asking for feedback and over polling your organization. A good compromise is just being present. From there, review the Listen section above.
Look for Opportunity
Whether leading from the classroom or leading by title, inaction can be our biggest downfall. We miss chances for empowerment, if a negative past experience clouds our willingness to try something new or ask a challenging question. Put faith in new circumstances and take the risk. If you have a question, ask it. If you have an idea, try it. You never know, if you don’t try. Your grandma may have taught you that.