Episode 16: Enabling

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In this series, we're focusing on nourishing a culture of leadership by applying timeless principles of life to the art of leadership. In this episode, we're exploring Enabling. You might think about enabling as an unhealthy behavior. In its positive use, enabling is the giving of authority to another person so that they can accomplish something. Enabling begins with enabling yourself. Giving yourself permission to lead your life and your work.

Leadership Development Focus: Enabling

Enabling, in its positive use, is the giving of authority to another person so that they can accomplish something. Enabling begins with enabling yourself. Yes, you give yourself the authority to be in leadership of your private life and work life.

Even in situations in which the conditions for you to have authority seem bleak, you and you alone can enable yourself with authority. For example, you can enable yourself to make the choice of what your energy is available for and what it is not available for. On a moment by moment basis, you can make a choice of whether your energy is available for what you are faced with, or it is not available. This is giving yourself authority to decide what to engage in and what not to engage in.

For example, if someone calls you and is confrontational, simply say “my energy is not available for this confrontation”. Having made this declaration, if the person persists, you then hang up. Another example is if you have a habitual pattern of worry. When you catch yourself worrying, you can give yourself the authority to make a different choice for your thoughts by saying to yourself “my energy is not available for worry” and pivot to thinking that is not in the pattern of your worry habit. You do have that authority!

Culprits that get in the way of enabling ourselves with authority are our habits and patterns.  One example of a habit that becomes a restrictive pattern is the re-working of old sorrow held in the mind. Re-working is the bringing up of the past, and going over it again and again. It is looking in the rear view mirror of life.  Enabling yourself with authority is undermined when you re-work the past. A doorway out of this undermining is to stay focused in the present. This particular culprit or barrier could even be the biggest barrier to enabling yourself with your authority. It is a big one for many people.

Another big barrier to enabling yourself with authority could be the fear of things: the fear of someone not liking you, the fear of loss, the fear of ruin, and the fear of the unknown. The culprit is inside of your head, not outside of you. A very helpful tip to overcome the culprits inside of your head that are getting in the way of enabling yourself with authority is The Work by Byron Katie. In doing the work, you get the chance to shift yourself and your thinking within a simple framework of four questions.  Another tip is to learn Non Personal Awareness (NPA) by Joel Young, another helpful and simple process to shift your thinking and habits that are not helpful to you.

Leadership and Enabling

When you are engaged in leadership, you may already be enabling others to work from their own authority. Or you may, whether consciously or subconsciously, be treating others as though they do not have authority. In either case, you get the outcomes associated with whether people feel enabled or feel that they are not enabled.  This is an enormous challenge for leadership skillfulness, especially if treating others as though they do not have authority is subconscious.  It is well worth exploring whether or not this is a program going on inside of you as you would get improved outcomes if you treated others as though they had authority.

One unconscious transition leaders can make is the unconscious transition from helping someone, because they legitimately need help…to doing the kind of helping that is the negative definition of enabling, relating to creating dependency. Developing your awareness of any tendency to slide into creating dependency on yourself is essential. This is self awareness work at an archetypal level for people who resonate with the archetype of hero or rescuer. Once a leader who resonates strongly with these archetypes develops awareness of the authority of others, they can have a difficult time in letting go of the hero or rescuer role. In letting go, the leader must trust that the person has the authority to create what they need to create.

In the work of learning skillfulness with enabling, it is tricky and takes practice to be appropriately helpful without creating dependency. It is tricky to leave behind the archetypal attachment to being the hero or rescuer. Further, it is made more difficult because in society we are collectively cultured to trust a hero, to trust a rescuer more than it is cultured into us to trust ourselves and our own authority.  When we are correctly identifying that by helping someone we are creating a dependency, it can go against what the person is expecting through cultural norms. We don’t want them to feel abandoned in relation to their expectations and yet we don’t want to create a dependency. Managing the transition requires heightened self awareness.

If you have a formal leadership role in your organization, one way to enable the people is to be explicit about the degree you are enabling individuals, teams and departments to have authority.  The key word here is ‘explicit’.  Have conversations about authority, add statements of authority into job descriptions to go along with responsibility and accountability, and help the people understand what having authority means.  Even if you work on your own as an entrepreneur, it is helpful to check in with whether you are enabling yourself with authority or whether you are undermining your own authority. Do you enable yourself with the authority to do the work you love? This can revolutionize the way you do business and the outcomes you achieve.

Developing Leadership Capacity for Enabling

Step One: Current Priorities

Figure out your current priorities. Whenever you find your mind starting to rework something, command yourself to focus on your current priorities. Take some action on a current priority even if it is a small action. This will help you create new patterns.  Don’t keep this only to work priorities. Remember you are a whole person with other aspects of your life. These aspects also need to be considered in your priorities. You will want to move all of you forward, not only part of you.

Step Two: Letter of Authority

Write a letter to yourself declaring that you have authority to lead your private life and work life. You may wish to get into specifics of what this means to you. Read it aloud to yourself, as often as you need to. Repetition helps you to develop new patterns.

Step Three: Act

Act from your declaration of your own authority. Spend a few minutes reflecting each day on when you notice that you are acting from your own authority and when you may not be.  When you have been acting from your own authority, what worked for you? How did it feel? When you notice you are not acting from your own authority, what didn’t work? How did it feel?

Step Four: Reflect

In your own quiet time, reflect about what it would be like to enable those around you to have authority. What energizes you about doing so? What causes you to feel a constriction in your energy? What are your insights about your willingness and ability to enable others to have authority?

Step Five: Enabling Others

Develop a plan for beginning your process of enabling the authority of others.

Include ways for people to stay focused on the priorities of the present. This requires a way for the priorities to be chosen, possibly with everyone involved. The priorities then need to be made visible and kept in the awareness of the people involved including your own.

Once the priorities are clear, you will need a plan for how you enable others with authority to carry out the priorities.  Again, you could involve everyone involved in sorting out the authority that they need. Including the statement of authority in their individual and team job descriptions is extremely beneficial.

Strengthening Your Leadership Capacity with Enabling

In figuring out how to enable yourself and others with authority, you may benefit from the help of a coach or mentor, or a peer-to-peer support group such as we provide in the Extraordinary Leadership Network. You are increasing your awareness, probably breaking patterns, even archetypal patterns, and you are working against the cultural norms that are based on the hero or rescuer archetype. It is challenging work and yet can shift the outcomes considerably.

On a cautionary note, a common challenge for leaders is to stick to the stated priorities. Leaders, through their visionary natures, can tend to move ahead and de-emphasis the priorities that people are working on. We hear this as a complaint from individuals and teams who really want to do their best, and are sometimes left wondering what the priorities are. As you are developing and acting out your plan for enabling  others, keep this consideration of the current priorities in your awareness.

About the Developing Leadership Series

We work the Genuine Contact way, nourishing a culture of leadership, applying timeless principles of life to the art of leadership. In this learning series, Birgitt Williams and Rachel Bolton are sharing our own wisdom and insights about the art of leadership. We'll be inviting you to consider your own experiences in life and business so far, and how you want to further your leadership development with this theme.

In this series, our intention is to offer you unique opportunities to continually develop your leadership. By developing your leadership you expand your potential. Your life changes and you gain greater insights and capacity for leading your life. Your leadership of your team, organization, congregation, and even your family brings about possibility thinking, transcending ordinary thinking and ordinary results.

In each episode, we will be exploring one key principle. You will hear our own experiences and understanding of each of these timeless principles.  We'll suggest simple activities you can do to develop your own leadership by working with these principles too. Subscribe to receive future episodes by email.

Rachel Bolton
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We specialize in developing leaders, teams, and organizations for the new leadership paradigm of "leading so people will lead". In this series, our Dalar team of Birgitt Williams and Rachel Bolton are sharing our own wisdom and insights about the art of leadership.
Rachel Bolton
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