I think I’ve figured it out – my moral purpose is to empower others; while I often teach, coach, facilitate, and mentor, ultimately I do these to empower others to do for themselves what they need to be successful or to achieve what they want. And of course, for me, there is a personal satisfaction and in fact, a real joy and excitement when I am able to accomplish my moral purpose. After some self-reflection, I’m realizing that my moral purpose and desire to empower others to take ownership comes from my worldview, my work experiences, and my personal relationships. Saber (2012) posed three questions in determining core values that can then be used to foster company culture; answering his questions highlights why empowering others is important to me as well as how I go about doing that.
Question 1: When have you felt most alive?
That’s easy, I have felt most alive when I’m playing a sport or game and I am working with others; it’s not necessarily the competition or winning that fuels me, it’s the challenge that is presented in those situations. It’s the pressure of accomplishing something with a running clock. It’s the particular combination of individuals in the group and how well we are able to work together (teamwork). It’s working with what we have or have access to, in accomplishing a goal – knowledge, skills, experience, time, tools, fouls to give, timeouts left to take, etc. Whether we win or lose, we continue to feel the impact of that experience; we might reminisce and reflect on the highlights or even critique and overanalyze our missteps and missed opportunities. The thrill of the challenge makes me look forward to the next time and I’ve realized that I carry that over into my work life. I don’t dwell on the inconvenience of challenges, obstacles, or setbacks; instead I focus on seeing the bigger picture, reaching out to others, and finding out more information to direct my next steps – I guess that can also be referred to as understanding the change process, knowledge creation and sharing, coherence making, and relationship building.
My next steps are not usually a set process where every challenge fits neatly, but are often informed by the context of the situation. And for me that’s the real challenge – combining everything (teamwork, skills, resources, experiences, knowledge, etc.) to find a solution or process that works, in this particular context. It may be that I find myself encountering a similar challenge down the road but in a different setting with a different “team” and it can be tempting to immediately try what worked for me before. In fact, I’ve definitely done that a time or two and I’ve often worked with others who already have it figured out as well. I think effective leaders are those who take advantage of all the expertise, skills, and knowledge of individuals within the group but consider the context of the situation or challenge and use that to inform the change process. As Fullan (2014) describes it, “leaders need to be conscious of how multiple motives are interconnected – competing, complementary, co-existing, etc. – how are they related to one another and work together” (p. 25).
Question 2: What behaviors stir up intensely negative reactions in you?
I call these “negative reactions” my firecracker moments; things that really get me fired up. I’m sure if I thought about it over time, I could actually keep a running list but here are some things (in no particular order) that contribute to why my moral purpose is to empower others:
- Making sweeping statements – otherwise known as assumptions, stereotypes, and blanket generalizations. The irony is that we are sometimes taught in school to do this; we are often asked to summarize what we have learned and make an overarching statement. We are sometimes expected to use our limited scope of knowledge and experiences to relate or illustrate a concept. We are sometimes taught to apply methods and processes to solve problems and overcome challenges – we are taught a set process to solve set problems and we don’t have opportunities to test the process on an ill-structured problem. I have witnessed resistance to change being justified by overarching, sweeping statements about all the reasons change won’t work and why we shouldn’t waste our time – that causes a firecracker moment for me.
- Denying others a voice or access – this is a complex issue that exists in every society and is on a very basic level, the conflict between groups of people within society. For some to succeed, others will be denied success. That might seem a pessimistic view of humanity, but it is the reality of a pluralistic society that exists today. For sure I don’t wake up everyday with a firecracker moment about the state of humanity. However, when I see or hear about discrimination, bullying, genocide, sexism, or any other form oppression, I definitely feel a renewed sense of moral purpose in empowering others – even on a small scale of those that are around me.
- Prioritizing things (ideas, objects, or systems) over people – Whenever I see an idea, object, concept, or process take on more significance that individuals or groups of people who are impacted, that causes a firecracker moment for me. When we implement a new process to make it easier for some to manage the process but inconvenient for everyone else who needs to follow the process, I take issue with that. When we go to great lengths to funnel or divert money, time, and resources to protecting objects, places, and ideologies at the cost of individuals or groups of people – then I think we need to re-examine our priorities. This is a tough issue for me since I am certainly a champion for conservation, environmental sustainability, and other causes that promote responsible stewardship over our planet. Yet, it’s hard for me to reconcile all the efforts and resources spent on the long term health of our planet when large numbers of people simply do not have access to basic needs – food, shelter, clothing, medicine, etc. How we as a society hold ourselves accountable for our choices and how we set priorities, is due, in a large part, to our moral purpose and our worldviews. Which leads me to my final spark for a firecracker moment
- Setting up others to fail – there are too many examples out there, of how individuals or groups are set up to fail. Standardized testing is an example of this and a persistent issue that continues to negatively impact teachers, students, schools, and parents; from each of these perspectives, the process sets them up to fail (Steinberg, 2015). How did we allow this assessment process and tools get so cumbersome and ineffective that nearly all of its stakeholders could argue that it does not work? This is again, a case of when we put ideas or processes into place that take on a life of their own and begin to negatively impact the very individuals or groups they were designed to help – the process has become more important than the individuals involved. There is something that feels morally wrong about that on so many levels and it’s these types of “setups” that cause my firecracker moments.
Question 3: Are there narratives you hold sacred or value systems you can borrow from?
Definitely! I grew up in a small community and Christian family that emphasized service to others. Quite simply, I learned from my parents to see good in everyone and that using my skills, abilities, knowledge, and experiences to help others was a worthwhile and rewarding endeavor. I learned that great individuals can positively impact a community and I experienced a community that shared, laughed, cried, and celebrated together and that looked out for all of its individual members.
In my work experiences, I learned to approach my work with humility and continuously work towards sustainability – to not create systems or processes that were wholly dependent on me for success. I learned not to “do things” for others but to empower them instead, to model empowered behavior and support others to take ownership and responsibility for their growth, decisions, and actions. I learned to instill confidence in youth by fostering a safe environment for trying new experiences, being creative, and making healthy choices. I learned to overplan and to be prepared but to always remain flexible and recognize when youth begin to take ownership and I could let go and adapt to our changing roles. I learned to always leave a place or situation better than when I found it and I learned that people always come first, always. Perhaps the most important things I learned in my work (so far), are that change is constant AND to trust the process. It’s important for me now to try new things and see them through, to trust that the process will bring meaningful change, and to see each situation with fresh eyes and from multiple perspectives.
Guy Kawasaki recommends coming up with a mantra rather than focusing on that overarching mission statement (Verma, 2007). I’m still working on what my mantra is now that I’ve honed in on my moral purpose.
For now, it’s a formula in progress:
Empower others = Putting people first
Fullan, M. (2014). Leading in a Culture of Change. Somerset, NJ, USA: John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated. Retrieved from http://www.ebrary.com
Jai Vikram Singh Verma. (2007, November 16). Don’t write a mission statement, write a mantra [Video file]. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jT7xlFTinIw
Saber, K. (September 5, 2012). 3 Questions to help you align company cultures with core values. Forbes. Retrieved from: http://www.forbes.com/sites/theyec/2012/09/05/3-questions-to-help-you-align-company-culture-with-core-values/
Steinberg, S. (April 28, 2015). Set up to fail: high stakes testing in public schools [weblog]. TheHuffingtonPost.com, Inc. Retrieved from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stacey-steinberg/set-up-to-fail-high-stakes_b_7164634.html