The fall harvest comes upon us once a year. The farmers collect the sometimes-scant rewards of their heroic efforts begun months before. For those of us who are hobby or family gardeners, fall is the time for us to pluck the firm orange pumpkins, the deep green flowers of broccoli, and the plump red tomatoes from their vines. As we reap our rewards of months of work and waiting from the backdrop of the black, black earth, we realize our personal power. If not for our labors, if not for our devoted attention and timely reaction to environmental hazards, these fruits would not be borne. The seeds we sowed in the early spring have given us sustenance and security for the coming frigidness.
Much like our work in the garden, we have no power singly, as power does not exist in isolation. Only when we work with others and interact to produce something of value, with constant alertness to outside variables and others' responses, do we have power. Our personal power enhances our own and others' capacities.
When the seedlings thickened, we thinned them so they would not choke each other out. When the vines fell from the weight, we supported them. When the drought threatened their very life, we watered them. When the bugs invaded, we protected them. When the frost came nipping at their foliage, we shielded them. Through our power we gave birth to something fresh and wondrous that would not have existed without us. This was not fulfilled through power over the seed, but through power with the seed, leaving ourselves open, vulnerable, and ready to act with the environment.
Power has historically been viewed as a situation in which one must lose in order for another to win. That is not power, that is force. True power is connected with others. True power is accepting the responsibility to act when needed. True power is moving toward a vision of the future to effect change.
When we supervise others, we must remember, understand and accept the potential and limitations of our power. If we give in to the temptation to dictate someone's life, to tell someone what to do, we strip others of their power. This is a form of force, not power. Only when we assist others in recognizing and using their own power are we truly powerful. To allow someone to become empowered is a gift that we can give.
The opposite of empowerment is dependency. Nothing and no one is totally dependent or helpless. Just as our gardens were dependent upon us for some things, they were not dependent upon us for everything. The ability for life was inherent in the seed, the sun, the soil and the rain. Without all these other forces we could not have willed or controlled the gardens to grow. So it is with others whom we assist.
Our role then, as managers becomes one of teaching others how to sow their own gardens and, with that, reap their own personal power. And for ourselves, when feeling helpless, fearful, and powerless to change, let us remember our gardens: those glorious green beans, or crisp cucumbers, that through our power were created.
Linda LaPointe, MRA, is the author of the book, The New Supervisor, in which she describes how to develop self-managed staff to increase loyalty and decrease stress in the workplace. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org