Gail Pursell Elliott


Back in the '80's I spent a year as a host parent for a foreign exchange student.  This young lady was a senior in high school and had come from a culture in which the customs were quite different from ours.  She was used to making a lot of decisions for herself, and one of the areas in which we locked horns had to do with her curfew time.  Obviously this was a power struggle.

A number of years ago, the concept of 'empowerment' was the latest buzzword in terms of management - much attention was given to it.  It was often not defined, and the use of the concept sometimes was to 'pass the buck' of responsibility on to employees when a supervisor was not sure of the right way to handle a situation.

Power is one of the five basic human needs.  By definition, power has to do with dominance and control.  I am not speaking of control of one human being over another or of hierarchical issues.  People take things personally, and the power that is a basic human need has to do with personal power.

If we translate the power need into a personal affirmation, we might say, "I am in control of my life."  Translate this further into the work environment, "I am in control of the work that I do."

When we are in control of our lives or our work, we then are able to make decisions that impact both and to take responsibility for our decisions. When people feel powerless it means that the ability to think creatively, to come up with options and to make decisions, to control our work or factors that affect our lives, have been taken away or are limited.  

At that point most of us will resist, push, or stretch the boundaries in order to regain a sense of that personal power.

In order to make decisions we have to have all of the information possible available to us so that we know how to proceed.  Sometimes we feel that we do not have enough information or question our own ability to make a good decision.  When we feel that a situation is "out of control" it really means that we feel that we do not have the power to impact it positively.

My exchange daughter and I went back and forth about her curfew many times.  She always pushed the limits of my control, coming home right at the last second.  Finally one day I decided to "empower" her.  I told her that I was removing the curfew completely.  That I no longer was going to control her time but that I expected her to use good judgment.  I waited anxiously to see what would happen.

To my amazement, I suddenly saw her more than I ever had before. Instead of staying out until all hours, she would show up two hours earlier than the old curfew with her boyfriend and they would sit and watch television or talk.  She told me that they used to stay out as long as possible because they were acutely aware of the time restrictions.  After the restrictions were removed, she saw our house now as a welcome place to hang out rather than a prison from which she was 'on parole.'

Power is not something that we can bestow on another person.  It is something that they already have within them that they will struggle to retain.  Empowerment means that we acknowledge the personal power each person has to make positive decisions and to take responsibility for them, a simple exercise in treating others with dignity and respect.

Have a Great Day and be good to yourself. You deserve it!


Speaker, Author, Educator, Human Resources and Training Consultant, Gail Pursell Elliott is president and founder of Innovations "Training With A Can-Do Attitude"TM - Promoting Dignity and Respect, No Exceptions, in companies and communities nationwide.  To receive Food For Thought messages via email join the website mailing list at www.innovations-training.com.


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