Time and time again, we hear a call for leaders who are engaging, charismatic, relational, and inviting (Burns, 2003, p. 181). Sometimes that call is answered, and sometimes, it is not. We can all think of people, historically or personally, who have talked a good game but ultimately, have fallen flat in their leadership. Why? One answer: because although they were engaging and inviting, there was no goal or motivation by which to empower us (Burns, 2003, p. 181).
“…true empowerment gives people ‘the confidence, competence, freedom, and resources to act on their own judgments (Burns, 2003, p. 183)…'”
Moreover, as much as followers need to be empowered, leaders need this, as well (Burns, 2003, p. 183). Fundamentally, humankind wants to feel competent, smart enough, and capable in some area of their lives (Burns, 2003, p. 183). When leader and followers reciprocate in collaborations, ideas, and roles, everyone benefits, feels competent and empowered (Burns, 2003, p. 183). Because of this empowerment, dynamic transformation occurs, elevating our ideas and understandings of ourselves, each other, and the role our leadership plays in changing the world (Burns, 2003, p. 183).
Regarding Psychology, our need to feel competent and capable is highlighted in Alfred Bandura’s Social Learning Theory. As we become more confident in our abilities, five domains work to shape us: mastery, observation, affirmation, emotions and imagination (Bandura, 1977). Mastery is relatively straightforward: when we accomplish a new goal, or we are successful in some endeavor, we believe we are more capable, confident, and intelligent than prior (Bandura, 1977). As we observe those around us, we see role models and examples for how to perform a particular task (Bandura, 1977). When they are successful, and they bear traits similar to ours, we believe that we can do it, too (Bandura, 1977). Moreover, as others affirm our potential and capabilities, we feel more empowered and confident within ourselves to continue to succeed and challenge ourselves in new ways (Bandura, 1977). Also, our emotional state affects and shapes our self-efficacy such that feelings of sadness and depression lower our sense of self-confidence and states like joy improve these (Bandura, 1977). Lastly, though this may sound rather childish, imagining ourselves succeeding and achieving mastery in an area builds our confidence and feelings of capability (Bandura, 1977). Our need for self-efficacy, knowledge, and confidence are universal; we all want to feel and experience these in every area of our lives (Bandura, 1977). Thus, psychologically speaking, we must all work together to affirm, empower, and encourage each other in what we do – this helps us feel more empowered and confident and also perpetually supports those around us.
In my personal leadership, I want to work to empower and affirm others more. Most often, I do not verbally voice my appreciation for what others do. Leaders and followers alike need empowerment and encouragement; once one is a leader, it does not mean they are perfect, infallible, or without doubt in their capabilities. In fact, it is more likely to be the complete opposite of this premise. So often, I think we become tied up in mindsets that place ourselves entirely at the center and those who collaborate with us at the periphery of our consciousness. Part of this unconscious and some of it may very well be within our consciousness. Rather than seek to only affirm myself in my successes, I want to become more appreciative and affirmative of others’ successes, achievements, and mastery. Doing so will help to create a cycle of empowerment and appreciation for all people, through all individuals as we work together towards creating more hope-filled and compassionate spaces and interactions in our world.
Within our faith, we are called to be a shining light upon a hill, an example through which all of humanity may see and learn. We must move from engaging with others on basic levels to dynamic empowerment and affirmation in all our work, relationships, and pursuits. Not only this, but our empowerment and affirmation should also yield civic engagement that transforms the communities in which we live. Bryan Stevenson notes his encounter with officers in an illegal search of his car (Stevenson, 2015, p. 39-42). Although visibly shaken and reasonably upset by the incident, it motivates him to continue on the path he was working toward as a lawyer and inspiring him to begin speaking out to others about the incident and what precautions and actions they can take (Stevenson, 2015, p. 42-46). He does so on the realization that many before him had been shot and killed out of the blue and for no reason; it could easily have been him as a young man (Stevenson, 2015, p. 42-46). Armed with this knowledge, he seeks to become an example to his community to put an end to the premature, immoral, and unjust deaths of a young African-American men and women in Alabama (Stevenson, 2015, p. 42-46). As we see the suffering and injustice of the world, we are called to fight and stand up for the rights of all of humankind, being an example and role model in the process for those around us, emulating the work of Christ as He stood for the marginalized, oppressed, downtrodden, and ridiculed.
Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological review, 84(2), 191.
Burns, J. M. (2003). Transforming leadership: A new pursuit of happiness (Vol. 213). Grove Press.
Stevenson, B. (2015). Just mercy: A story of justice and redemption. Spiegel & Grau.