I was in Scotland yesterday. Hard though it is to imagine, my daughter has just completed her first year at University. Time flies. It feels like only last week that we dropped her off and now I was off picking her up to bring her home. A year already. Packing everything into the car was a challenge. She definitely had more to bring home than she took. More clothes; more books; more memories.
We are on our way back home together now. It is just my daughter and me. The car is way too full for anyone else. And by the time we left Scotland it was always going involve an overnight stay. The journey – and dinner last night – has been wonderful and a great chance to catch up.
She loves her University (the city, the people, and the history), her new friends, and the course she is taking. I wasn’t surprised about the first. I knew the second would happen. I was delighted about the third.
A few years ago, as my daughter was approaching the moment when she had to make choices about subjects at school and ultimately at University, she asked me what I thought. It wasn’t quite a request for advice…more a question. I am always happy to answer questions…I am always a little more anxious about advice.
And this had to be my daughter’s decision – this was such an important set of choices. Of course we can pass on our experiences, we can share our opinions – and we can even describe what we may do in that situation. But ultimately such important decisions have to be taken by the person themselves. At that moment, my role was to empower her – or more importantly to help her feel empowered – to make these major decisions herself.
My answer? “To choose subjects you really enjoy…love even.” “To do well at school and at university will inevitably involve hard word (or late night work). It’s just always easier to go that extra mile if you are doing something that you enjoy, that engages you and ideally inspires you.”
I have often wondered whether it is really possible to empower someone, or whether the key is to avoid disempowering. I believe a crucial component of empowerment is clarity over boundaries, especially with regards to decisions – what decisions can be made…and by who; who – if anyone – do they need to have permission from? If we get this right, and keep to these boundaries then we are on the path to empowerment! My first line to my daughter…“ It has to be your decision.”
If we forget to define boundaries, or if we define boundaries but don’t keep to them, then we inadvertently induce a lack of trust…which in turn leads to a feeling of disempowerment. And I find this applies as much with work colleagues as it does families.
Disempowerment is never good. Worse case? Individuals or teams make their own decisions…but simply hide them (and any results) from us. Or they just ‘give up’ and come to us for everything because they have no idea what they really can control.
And there’s undoubtedly a skill to setting boundaries – I know I am still practicing. For example, if boundaries we set are too narrow and specific for the person, team or situation (or for that matter too wide and generic)…they may as well not be there.
And maybe the most interesting….how do we behave when we realise activity is underway at, or near, boundaries we have set? Do we rein them back? Do we leave them to it? Or do we step outside with them?