Can empowerment lead to happiness?

“I think a stark example is young black kids who are very unhappy and not doing well in school. And they really feel like they’re not empowered. Often they think society is against them because opportunities such as education are limited.

This is the second in a series of articles on empowerment. The first focused on empowerment and the individual, and subsequent articles will examine how empowerment is affected by culture. This article – commented above by Catherine Gannon, MD of the law firm Gannons, one of the participants in an exciting panel discussion on the subject of empowerment – examines why empowerment is inseparable from the environment and why our ability to empower ourselves (or others) is often beyond our control. Catherine comments again: “Sometimes there are obstacles that you cannot overcome. If it is an obstacle and you strive to overcome it, it gives you power. However, for example, with regard to the destruction of the world, I personally think that we are not yet sufficiently empowered on this subject, because we are not able to overcome the obstacles to stop CO2 emissions.

Anna Carolina Queiroz, postdoctoral researcher at Stanford University, explains why, depending on the challenge, the environment can either enable or disempower an individual. “You can overcome challenges. This validates your efforts, greatly increasing your empowerment. But if those challenges turn out to be frustrations and you don’t feel able to overcome them, then you disempower yourself,” says Queiroz.

Goldilocks area

As I mentioned in the first article on empowerment, as CEO I deliberately strayed away from giving direction with the intention of empowering, but with some colleagues this resulted in a loss of autonomy. because they needed more guidance on how to move forward. There is a “Goldilocks Zone” in which there is neither too much nor too little freedom or direction, a zone that is unique to each person and is key to successful empowerment. Queiroz explains, “For example, if you set a very difficult task, but provide support and show that the recipient has control over their resources, you empower them and reinforce an achievable behavior. But if you just hand over the task and say go for it, and don’t allow them to feel in control of their resources, then you’re actually doing the opposite and undermining them.

Creating the perfect Goldilocks Zone for individuals to respond positively to the environment is central to a successful empowering relationship. For some, it will be related to the ability to control the environment. Queiroz again “The more control you feel you have; driving, making changes and mobilizing resources to achieve your goals, the more empowered you feel.

Autonomous intrapreneurs

There has been a trend within some companies to create entrepreneurial teams (intrapreneurs) that are put in control of their environment by being separated from the rest of the organization. There is often a belief (or maybe hope is a better word) that these teams can then infuse the rest of the organization with their new ways of working. By building their startup product or division, these intrapreneurs foster a sense of freedom and personal responsibility that was likely irrelevant in their previous position.

However, in my experience, these initiatives usually fail when they start to grow, because the empowerment that was given to selected employees is then destroyed when it is necessary to reconnect with the main organization. This is for various reasons, but mainly due to the obligation to engage in processes and a bureaucratic culture that was avoided in the first place. The feeling of disillusionment and helplessness of these intrapreneurs is often greater after their return to the main organization than before becoming an intrapreneur. It is perhaps sad that in the process of creating separate units, business leaders actually admit that they are unable or unwilling to change the culture of their organizations from within to empower their people.

Empower students

Clearly, a lot of companies try to ensure their staff are empowered as part of their engagement goals, but like schools, the pendulum can swing between extremes. Quieroz makes an important point about the education sector:

“When you want to change behavior, you can go to the other extreme. When we look at empowerment in schools, what we find is that starting in the 1960s and 1970s, students had no opportunity to change or be empowered by the environment. Maybe they were empowering themselves, but not because of the environment. Now, especially in the last 10-15 years, we have the opposite where students are able to massively change their environment. »

Empowerment and Happiness

Perhaps we are better equipped today than at any time in the past to change our environment to become more self-sufficient, which in turn could lead to greater happiness. Gannon provides a good summary of the relationship between empowerment and happiness. “I think empowerment is about achieving your own personal goals. And if you feel you are able to achieve what you want to achieve, you will be a happy person. When you feel there are immovable obstacles on your way, you will not be a happy person.

This was the second article on empowerment. The next article will look at another aspect of empowerment – ​​the cultural dimension – and explore how empowerment is perceived and practiced in different countries and different generations.

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