by Judy Ryan
“Personal power is the ability to stand on your own two feet with a smile on your face in the middle of a universe that contains a million ways to crush you.”
-J.Z. Colby, Journey
As a business leader, you don’t want to be one who thinks of a of a million ways to crush people. You want to recognize, appreciate, and support them. Then they come fully alive and fully engage. One of my daughters once said to me, “Mom, I wish I had your work ethic.” I said, “You do.” She said, “Huh. No, I don’t.” I said “Yes you do. You stay up all night playing video games.” She said, “But that’s not work; it’s fun.” I said, “So is working a job you find meaningful and loving.” I work hard just like someone who looks up from a video game they love and realizes just how much time has passed unnoticed. That’s being in the zone. The problem that keeps people out of the zone is not will power or work ethic, it’s conditions and conversations that keep them from exercising their personal power with joy, freedom, and confidence.
In my work, employee engagement is top priority. I help leaders realize that for people to fully engage, they require a sense of adventure, choice, competency, and meaning. They must be believed in. People must be encouraged to win; not a prize or an award, but the joy of contribution. They must feel that what they do has meaning, allows them to exercise initiative, and provides them enough challenge. They need support and reassurance to become good at what they do and to share in their successes. People need to access personal power, but most have not been encouraged to do so.
Think about it. Discouragement in use of personal power begins in very early childhood. What do we call two-year olds who are just beginning to recognize they’re separate with power all their own? We say, “Oh, he’s hitting the terrible twos. You better double down and make sure he knows who’s boss.” Why? Because we see this power and believe it’s our job to control it when it’s really our job to honor it, appreciate it, educate it, and guide it with patience, encouragement, and purpose.
If you run a business and have people on your team who are disengaged partially or fully, you’re not alone; this is all too common. The reason is because you may have been conditioned in thinking and speaking that comes from other leaders; to hold an attitude of cynicism and fear about personal power. You may recoil at the employee who offers opposition or brings up new ideas. You may not like the one who asks for or roles you believe indicate entitlement because they define you. You may also not recognize that the people you lead who misuse their power are demonstrating a call to be understood, supported, and given wings; not disgust.
When was the last time you looked at yourself and your team thinking, “Wow—look at this amazing power and potential!” Do you approach each of your people with reverence and curiosity? Do you make sure they have every opportunity to talk about barriers and get help? Do they know and feel they are appreciated and that they matter to the purpose of your business? Do you believe in them? Do you seek to understand them? Do you recognize them as the most valuable asset you have?
If your answer is some form of no, it’s likely you have a problem with disengagement. If so, have patience with yourself. You have not known how to set up the best conversations and conditions so your people bloom and thrive. Let me know if I can help you with this. It’s my joy to help you unlock the wealth of potentiality sitting untapped within your organization!
Judy Ryan (judy@LifeworkSystems.com), human systems specialist, is owner of LifeWork Systems. Join her in her mission to create a world in which all people love their lives. She can also be reached at 314-239-4727.
People hire LifeWork Systems because we help businesses become agile and manage their priority system: their human system. I hope this article helps you make sense of what’s most crucial to your evolving organization!