Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The Empowering Instinct

I keep pledging to blog more often. Tonight I am co-leading a program at the OD Learning network. This may drum up some more traffic visiting collaboration blog, and I do not want first-time visitors to think that my blog is out of date.

I do lots of pondering and reflecting and for some reason think that I need to have it all figured out before I write it down when, if fact, the act of writing IT down is what brings IT into focus. Sometimes my typing fingers seem to know more than my mind knows.

More and more I am feeling clear about the "empowering instinct" being a primal human behavior. I first became aware of the behavior through my husband of thirty years, Bruce Conklin. Fifteen years ago, when I was in Toastmasters, I decided to enter a speech contest and actually won the first two rounds of competition. The title of my speech was "Love Makes You More Than You Are", and that is how Bruce has been in my life. Whenever I have felt that something was going to be too big, too hard, take too much time away from him and our home, Bruce has been the one who supported me all the way, the one who took the tentative words I spoke..."should I?, could I?" and turned them into an action plan and started clearing the path for me to move forward. Just to give you one example: Early in our marriage, when we returned from two years away from the U.S. working on environmental engineering projects in the Philippines and Egypt, I decided that I needed to do something about my career. At the time I was a technical writer. I was bored and, in my opinion, not paid enough. After a year of reading the help-wanted ads, I decided that all the good jobs said MBA preferred on required. I said, "Bruce, I was an English major. Do you think I could do this? Should I apply to school?" It was late spring. The only GMATs(the entrance exam most B schools use) within the next six months were the following weekend. I was not pre-registered and we were scheduled to leave our Boston home and spend the weekend with Bruce's parents in Long Island. Bruce researched the Long Island test centers, found the one closest to his parents home, and spent all of Saturday driving me there, and waiting for me to finish the exam. This is just one example. There are hundreds.

In the business arena, my sense is that women demonstrate the "empowering instinct" more routinely than men. My intuition about this is that women are not kindler, gentler nor more compassionate than men. Let's just hypothesize that many women hold the stereotype of men as "protectors and providers". My experience of feeling the need to "empower" in the workplace is that "empowering" is the best way to protect my own job and the welfare of my team and organization. Most times I feel I have nothing special to offer other than the ability to see talent and focus it. When my work team is threatened, my "gut" reaction is to do anything to keep us together, to keep us whole. For example, if our workload is down and we need more work, my immediate reaction is to go around and boost everyone's morale and self-confidence and get them on the phone calling past clients and setting up meetings. I "empower" them to help themselves and me (they are so big and strong, after all).

I need to leave for work now. There is much to do before I sleep. I promise to write more soon and would love this monologue to become a dialogue with the world.