5 Steps to (almost) Effortless Empowerment

Corporate America spends millions each year searching (usually at vaguely fluffy off-site retreats spattered with trust-falls, group “sharing” and warm-fuzzies) for employee “empowerment.” These concrete tips take little time, even less money…and actually work.

1. Call People By Name Research has shown that hearing our own name on a regular basis, especially from those in positions of power makes us more likely to take risks, accept responsibility, invest in a community, and generally push our personal boundaries.

2. Pay SMART Compliments We’ve all seen the difference that specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and timely goals can make. Imagine what would happen if we applied the same criteria to our expressions of gratitude and affirmation, and “Hey, good job.” became “Wow. Your presentation this morning was awesome–your re-write of the opening totally hooked them, and the pacing through the financials was right on. Seriously can’t wait for next week.”

3. Give Negative Feedback Researchers in the field of “expertise and expert performance” continually cite our cultural dirth of negative feedback as the main reason so few of us ever escape mediocrity. We’d fire an athletic coach or music teacher who refused to point out and correct mistakes–so why do CEOs and managers get away with it?

4. Speak Their Language Advice to learn your co-workers “love language” may sound like an invitation for a law suit, but applied appropriately, it can help build trust, diffuse conflict and increase creativity. Individuals tend to express (and therefore receive love (and affirmation, appreciation, validation, etc.) in several distinct ways. Learning which each of your employees or team members responds best to can help you communicate positive reinforcement so that it actually makes a difference. Look for these 5 main “dialects”…

  • Words of Affirmation : Chances are, you already think nice things about your co-workers an a regular basis. But since most of them aren’t mind-readers, it doesn’t do much good unless you speak up!
  • Quality Time : Ever heard the saying, “time is money.” Well, in business particularly, it’s often true. So making time for colleagues–to work through a problem, share a lunch, even listen to them vent–often communicates their value to you more clearly than anything else.
  • Acts of Service : for these individuals, simple gestures (rinsing their coffee cup, offering to take their place at a meeting, picking up the slack when their 2-year-old gets chicken pox) speak louder than words.
  • Physical Touch : again, keep this appropriate, but for some people nothing “says” good work! like a good-old-fashioned pat on the back.
  • Gifts : even small tokens of appreciation–certificates, awards, gift cards, time off–can go a long way with a person whose language is gifts.

5. Listen! Ever notice how the few people you know who are really good listeners also tend to be some of the most popular, productive, and powerful people you know too? So take a good honest look at your listening skill and set a concrete goal to improve.

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H.O.P.E.S. Development

Disclaimer: This is the response to another prompt on the Third World Development final–about what advice you’d give president-elect Obama about turning around the dismal and disintegrating reputation of America abroad and conquer poverty, hunger, and social injustice at the same time. It’s a bit long, but I’d honestly love feedback.

Hopes are what the American Dream is built on—what brought, and continues to bring, millions of immigrants from every continent by land, by sea, and by air to this country. And despite our own past specters and present demons of corruption, hypocrisy and injustice, the American Dream is still real. We still hope that children of all colors and creeds will live together in security and respect. We still hope that opportunity and hard work will open doors and break generations-long chains of poverty and oppression. We still hope that this grand experiment of liberty will indeed enlighten the world.

But this liberty was meant to enlighten the world, not subject it. The shackles at the feet of Lady Liberty are broken—it’s the torch she holds high. This is the embodiment of soft power, as much as the so-called “gun-barrel democracy” of recent decades is the embodiment of hard power. Both types of power can be used to “export democracy,” but they accomplish it in fundamentally different ways. Where hard power seeks to command and coerce, soft power seeks to co-opt. The tools of hard power are force, sanctions, payments and bribes; the tools of soft power institutions, policies, culture and values. Hard power is authoritarian and self-serving. Soft power is neither. And HOPES development is built on soft power.

It’s not a cookbook recipe for poverty eradication, and it’s not a step-by-step guide for building world peace. HOPES development is an approach, an ideology based on bits of diffusion theory, behavioral change theory, world systems theory, and development theory (not to mention the blood, sweat, and tears lessons of some of the world’s great change agents) about what it takes to make a lasting difference.

HELP : Meet immediate needs, Give them what they ask for!
ORGANIZE : Design holistic solutions to authentic challenges.
PREPARE : Address financial, social, human and conceptual capital gaps.
EMPOWER : Confront social and structural barriers.
SUSTAIN : Implement long-term solutions for evolution and growth.
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