Friday, March 19, 2021

Empowering Others

The leadership ideal of empowering others, to make someone stronger and more confident, is a bit of a misnomer. Despite our best intentions, we cannot make someone stronger. We cannot make someone, well, anything. We can only create spaces where all the “someones” in our sphere of influence are able to find their strength and improve their confidence. This is no small feat, but there are some actions we can incorporate into our own behaviors to help create empowering spaces.

  1. Showing Up. Being physically present may not always be possible, but the importance of people seeing us, particularly those of us with leadership positions, sends a powerful message. The more we are present with others, the less room there is for unrealistic ideas about who we are. Togetherness is grounding, and when those around us see us as real, tangible people, we become more relatable and approachable. We also have far more opportunities to lead by example. 

  2. Engaging People. Engagement involves building relationships with all types of people—not just those who are most like us. When we limit our relationship-building to only those who think and act like us, we create cliques, discourage diversity, and suppress a speak-up culture. 

  3. Helping Teammates. Helping our peers and those in our natural work groups leads to building community. A strong sense of community encourages the members to work together and collaborate more while discouraging the competitive mindsets that can tear teams apart.

  4. Challenging Leaders. Sometimes, our leaders are wrong. It’s not because they are bad leaders. It’s just because they are people. Part of our humanity is our inherent nature to be imperfect. Sometimes, they don’t have all the information and make decisions that beg for adjusting. Sometimes, the pressure to move forward leads them to forget a stakeholder. Challenge decisions, ask for the why, and bring new information to the table as often as possible. And leaders: let yourself be challenged without taking it personally. Challenge helps us to grow.

  5. Stretching People. The art of professional development involves allowing people to work on projects that are outside of their typical comfort zone. Doing it well involves also providing the tools and support they need, including the space to make mistakes and learn, without leaving them hung out to dry. Getting to know not only existing strengths but interests and potential will aid in ensuring we guide others to projects and endeavors that will broaden their experience without stretching them too thin.

  6. Aligning Around a Mission or Common Goal/Purpose. Finding the passion and purpose of any group of people is one of the most important discoveries we can make as we seek to create and maintain empowering spaces. When we have a common goal, a sense of purpose that unites us, we can rally to that cause and obtain success as a group. Group cohesion and successful projects greatly increase the confidence of the individual members: “When WE did it, I was part of that we.”  

  7. Let Go. The simplest and most effective way to help others to feel empowered is to let go of control. The act of empowering is allowing others to have control over their own situation. Be it work, social, or homelife, the easiest thing we can do to help others grow in strength and confidence is to let them make their own choices.

Empowerment is not an easy part of leadership, because empowering others is more about letting go and less about what you can do. We’ve all heard the saying, “If you give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” The old adage is true—but you have to let go of the pole and let him fish for himself. He might make mistakes like breaking the line, snagging some water plants, or losing the fish he was sure was in the net; and our job as leaders is to let him make those mistakes. Each will help him to grow in skill and confidence. You may occasionally be called to give him an extra line, but ultimately, the only way he can learn to feed himself is to be in control of his own learning process. That is empowerment. 

Cartoon image of young boy with a fish on the hook of his rod.

George. B. (2010). True North: Discover your authentic leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Finding Yourself Again After the Kids are Grown

Raising children is a lot of work. From getting ready for school to meals to after school activities to homework to bedtime, there is not a lot of wiggle room in most schedules to find downtime as a family let alone for us as adults. Raising children in a pagan/polytheist household is even more work, because most of us have to provide our own religious education to our children. I used to covet the programs at other churches, especially the ones where someone qualified to work with children would whisk yours away so you could attend the adult services and feed your own spirit while they learned about faith practices. 

Sadly, most pagan groups do not have the capacity to provide childrens lessons even now, so most parents have three basic options: hold a separate service at home for each high day that is child-friendly, bring the kids to the adult high day and hope for the best, or leave the kids at home and attend the high day without them. I admit that I have done all three of these depending on what was happening in my life. As a single mom, I was very fortunate to have a series of groves within a day trip who fully supported me bringing my kids to our events and helping (sometimes A LOT) so I could sing.  As more families began attending our events, we were able to provide kid-specific content, but by this time, mine were quite a bit older than the others. This often left them as helpers, which was a lot of fun, though not entirely educational in terms of developing their religious path. Grove events were inherently social for them, and I am grateful they had this outlet. 

Most of the "education" I provided for them involved storytime and outdoor activities. We read all sorts of myths from a host of hearth cultures, sang songs, tried fun recipes, and took a lot of hikes. We would try to name birds and trees (which was easier when our grove naturalist came with us!) and often hold mini-rituals of offering while we were miles into some path in a metropark. It was pretty unstructured, and I know I could have done more, but I am at peace with what I showed them. I remember the first time we were in a park and they picked up trash unprompted. It had become such a routine part of our trips to the playground that they just began doing it--even now they can't walk by a can or wrapper without picking it up and placing it in a trashcan. They also had a hand in "shaming" some of our guests through recycling by example. My autistic son used to pick their soda cans out of the trash, place them into the recycling bin, and say, "you're welcome." I always told him "thank you" when he placed his recyclables in the correct bin, so he always said, "you're welcome" when placing items in. Even if his motivation was more "this is what we do with these types of items" instead of "we do this with these items because it's good for the Earth," his actions were consistent and resulted in positive change among those around him. 

But, I digress. This was supposed to be about me.

I was recently asked how I went about redefining my own spiritual path as my kids grew older, more independent, and eventually moved out of the house. At first, I didn't have a solid answer. Being pagan is a part of who I am, of how I move through the world, so when I was parenting, I was also paganing. Even now, when I am working, I am paganing. When I am socializing, I am paganing. When I am relaxing and taking time for myself, I am paganing then, too. For me, I was able to "redefine" myself by filling the time that freed up as they began entertaining themselves. Being a Bard and aspiring Initiate and Priest, it was easy to fill those gaps, because I knew what I wanted to do. I had goals! 

I guess that is my advice: set goals for yourself. The hardest part about having your kids out of the house, those little monsters who made a mess and ate all your food while they stole your heart, is filling the time once reserved for them. Kids require a tremendous amount of time and energy, and when that outlet is no longer there, our best way forward is to find other outlets. Your goal might be simple like trying three new things, or hard like learning to play an instrument. You may set a goal to finally get to that stack of books, to work on creating a new daily devotional that isn't kid-friendly, and so on. What do you want to do? As you work toward answering this question, the becoming and finding yourself will happen on its own.

If you don't have kids and are worried about how they will change your life, including your spiritual path, you can stop worrying. They will change everything, including your spiritual path. And it will be some of the best changes you've ever made.