Words of Wisdom for
Leadership, Learning, and Life in
Exactly 99 Words
99's On the Go

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99-Word Stories by ,
Creative Learning Director of
The Flirefly Group.
© 2012 Brian Remer
Updated Feb. 2012


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99's on the 9th


Ideas based on 99-Word Stories that
come to you on the 9th of every month.

February 2012

Empowerment Dance
Linda was a great boss. More like a coach than a supervisor, she helped me strive for my potential and offered me opportunities to learn and grow professionally and personally. Acutely aware of power differences, she didn't discriminate between me and her office assistant, Isabel.

One day, Isabel confided, "Linda's always trying to get me to go to these fancy retreats but I just want to stay here and type."

Wow! You can offer to empower, but people have to be ready and want to make changes for themselves. It's a complex dance. Who leads; who follows?

 

You can build upon the theme of this 99-Word Story by using some of the following questions for your own reflection or to spark a discussion within your team or organization.

 

There are many ways to understand this story as the discussion questions suggest. If you or your group would like to compare or contrast your interpretation with an outside viewpoint, consider this analysis.

If you watch a pair of ballroom dancers in a competition you will see effortless fluidity as the couple glides across the floor. It can be beautiful and daring. But this is a performance. The dancers have choreographed and practiced their moves to perfection. There is neither a leader nor a follower, just two people synchronizing their agreed upon and rehearsed movements.

I met my wife on the dance floor. She led me in a few swing dance moves and I was intrigued enough that we enrolled in a dance class. Traditionally, the male partner leads the couple from one move to the next. It's his responsibility to improvise and keep the dance interesting while avoiding potentially awkward contact with other dancers. But, as someone new to the dance floor, I felt clumsy and unsure of making the transitions between moves. Often my wife would take the lead initiating a move I had forgotten or helping us avoid a collision with another couple. Today, with confidence and practice, I am a competent dance leader. But my wife still leads at some points and our method of shared leadership has become a metaphor describing many other aspects of our relationship.

Often, people talk about empowering others; helping them to take on more responsibility, make decisions, or act confidently. What we forget is that, by definition, empowerment is something that comes from within. We cannot make another person more powerful, able, or confident. They must do that on their own. They must see the need for their own growth, desire that growth, and work to gain the knowledge, skills, and confidence to accept more responsibility.

However, even though the desire for empowerment must come from within, that person must have access to resources to gain the knowledge, skill, and confidence they need. Other people, who are themselves empowered, have control of those resources and can make them available to the unempowered. But those who are empowered must also be willing to share their power. For example, it does little good to train people but then never give them the chance to use their new learning.

And this is where our dance analogy is helpful. Someone needs to be the leader - but the dance must be improvised. If one person, say the one with power, choreographs the dance, those becoming empowered may feel controlled, manipulated, or coerced. If those without power direct the dance, those with power may think they are in the middle of a mutiny! Both dancers must coordinate the steps that will help them be successful together.

Dancing involves numerous complex interactions but in the end, it should be fun for both partners - and for the audience. If your empowerment dance has become clumsy, stop the music. Use the table below to find your place, look your partner in the eye, and determine your next step together. Soon you'll be dancing like a star!

Those Who are
Empowered
Those Who are
Becoming Empowered

People Such as…

  • Managers
  • Team Leaders
  • Parents

People Such as…

  • Employees
  • Team Members
  • Teenagers

See the Need for…

  • Leadership
  • Teamwork
  • Maturity

Want to Grow by…

  • Being responsible
  • Sharing expertise
  • Doing adult tasks

Share the Power by…

  • Training
  • Supporting
  • Sharing the car keys

Accept Power by…

  • Using their learning
  • Supporting others
  • Buying gas for the car

 

Did you use this 99-Word Story and the discussion questions or interpretation in your work or personal life? If so, about your experience! If you would like help using 99-Word Stories in your organization, please me.

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