People Power: The last great freedom - Aug/Sep 19

By Sam Allman

Viktor Frankel, the author of Man’s Search for Meaning, claims that no matter what happens to us, whether we are abused, kidnapped, incarcerated or tortured, there is one thing that can never be taken away from us. He calls it the “last great freedom,” and it is, “to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Educated as a psychiatrist and interred in a Nazi concentration camp, he came to that conclusion as he observed prisoners come and go, survive and die. This freedom is the foundation of people power.

Let me reiterate what I mean by people power. It is the power to connect to, build rapport with, influence and finally motivate others to achieve worthy goals for themselves or within a group at high levels of performance.

It does not mean the power to coerce, force or use fear to get people to act. Mao Zedong said that “power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” That has nothing to do with people power. Coercive power generates movement, not motivation. It is ineffective because it only works when fear is present.

Nor is it generated by incentive or rewards. Certainly, motivating people to act when something is wanted or needed works. It is more effective than coercive power. But if the need or want has been satisfied, it no longer motivates.

People power is paradoxical. It cannot be demanded, nor grabbed. It can only be granted. It’s the power we give to others because we honor them. We allow their influence to affect our decisions and actions. Think about people you honor. Who would you listen to, follow or allow yourself to be influenced by? Why? It’s probably because you respect them; you trust them; you believe they have your best interests in mind and that they care about you. You may recognize them for their achievements, expertise or wisdom. You honor them for the kind of women and men they are. In his book, The Power Principle, Blaine Lee writes, “…you will never be more effective as a leader than you are as a person.”

The fact is, honor attracts esteem, respect, consideration, self-respect, dignity, courage and fidelity. Again, honor and loyalty cannot be purchased nor demanded; those can only be granted. You may have been given or acquired a title or a position of power (manager, CEO, leader, parent or boss), but honor will not accompany you in that position unless you are the type of person that attracts it. Remember, Plato said, “The measure of a man (or woman) is what he does with power.”

This “last great freedom” and the foundation of people power is something that can never be taken from us-no matter what. We must choose to give it away or choose to let someone take it from us. It’s our choice. It’s what Eleanor Roosevelt referred to when she said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent or permission.” It is the ability to choose our response to any given situation. In essence, it is our most basic freedom: “response-ability,” the ability to choose our response in every situation, good or bad, pleasant or painful.

Why is this the foundation of people power? People of honor take responsibility. They don’t blame, shame or justify. They consider the choices at hand and make their own decision. It’s hard to honor people who blame others for their choices. Responsible people don’t say, “I had to,” “She made me,” “It’s not my fault,” or “I had no choice.” Giving away our freedom to choose usually makes us feel helpless; it makes us feel like victims. What do helpless people do? Nothing! People of honor do not play the victim role, nor do they wallow in self-pity for their problems. Instead, they do not let the situation dictate their response but take responsibility for their response to the situation.

You may not care if you have people power or if people respect and honor you, but if you are like me, you want to leave the world a better place because you were here. We all long to make a difference. We want our lives to matter. Guess what? Our lives will matter, even if we help, influence or make a difference for only one person.

Today, because of the increased diversity of our population, the global economy and the connectedness, we have to be more sensitive to others and other perspectives than ever before. I know it pains many of us that we can no longer automatically say what we feel. Why can’t we be frank?

First of all, frankness is generally ineffective. Frankness is typically read as criticism, and criticism makes the other person defensive or angry. You can be assured that once you have made someone defensive, their mind has shut down, and they have stopped listening.

But just as importantly, insensitivity to others doesn’t just hurt them, it hinders us. It keeps us from learning and growing and becoming better people with greater people power. Learning to be sensitive to others-their cultures, belief systems, age cohorts, gender or sexual orientations-is something for which only you can be responsible.

To have people power, you must be responsible for your own feelings. Ironically, you must be sensitive to others, but you can let your ego and sensitivity get in the way of your learning. You can’t learn if you are protecting a fragile ego. You must have the strength of ego to be open to criticism, personal attacks, different perspectives and viewpoints other than your own. Take the responsibility of seeking the truth and what’s right. Don’t be addicted to being right. Admitting when one is wrong and taking responsibility for failure and blame takes great ego-strength. Be like a duck with water: let criticism and failure roll off your back. Evaluate your failures or limitations; learn from them, but, don’t allow them to make you defensive and stop listening. By the way, admitting weakness and ignorance builds trust with others. It also opens your mind.

In today’s political and economic environment, if we truly desire to have people listen to our ideas, respect us and get results for our organizations, we must become more mindful or aware of how our words and actions affect others. We can’t be clueless to what our presence does to the ambience of a room when we walk in or walk out. We must notice when others become defensive, shut down, remain silent or are quick to anger to the things we do or say. If we want to be effective with people, we must notice when what we are doing isn’t working, so we can choose more effective words or actions. Just because you are talking doesn’t mean people are listening.

As I have written previously, cluelessness is one of the primary reasons leaders fail. The primary causes of cluelessness are a lack of information, a lack of seeing the big picture, a lack of awareness of reality, and a belief in one’s infallibility. Cluelessness is the primary reason Hitler’s leadership lost World War II-thank goodness.

People can’t change or won’t change until they first become aware that they need to do so. By the way, telling people they need to change is ineffective. People change when they are sick and tired of being sick and tired of the status quo and decide to take responsibility for it, and we have no power to help them do so unless we approach them with the understanding and humility of a true leader.

Empowering personal responsibility is not an easy task. Our natural tendency is to protect our sensitive egos if we are challenged or criticized. Blame, shame and justification as well as anger are natural defense mechanisms. To move from a reactive mode (no control) to a responsive mode (personal choice is empowered), you must first change your thinking. Feelings are real. We can’t change our feelings unless we first change the thoughts that create them. Let me suggest ways that can help you change your thinking and, in turn, take more responsibility for your personal awareness, your sensitivity to others and the strength of your ego.

Become aware of your personal biases. Whether you believe it or not, you have them-it is a fact. These biases affect us unconsciously when we see, respond and meet people. Everyone is most comfortable with their culture or belief system (ethnocentric). It’s human nature. It becomes easy to judge and stereotype. That is also human nature. Putting people in boxes (stereotyping) makes life easier to handle. But rarely does anyone in any group fit together in a nice box even if they are members of the same cohort. When you see someone who is different from you, stop and notice what you are thinking. Do you judge or stereotype? Lack of awareness makes you clueless to your own thoughts.

Walk in the shoes of others who are different from you. It’s amazing how empathy will change your thinking. Immerse yourself in cultures different from yours. Traveling is the best way to do that. As I write this, I am in Hoofddorp, Netherlands. Diversity abounds here. Traveling has dramatically changed my thinking. It is still the most intense mode of learning. If we were meant to stay in one place, we would have roots instead of feet! Mark Twain wrote, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.” You can even immerse yourself in other cultures and diverse groups if you stay home. Just look around you.

Be curious about the personal stories of others. Learn their stories. Stereotyping is the result of judging someone by a single story. We are each more than the color of our skin, our religion, sexual orientation or age group. We each have multiple stories. We all have judged someone, but then we have learned more of their story. Have you noticed how it changed your thinking? Learning the stories of others will move you from judging to understanding, from understanding to respecting, and, finally, from respecting to valuing.

Stephen R. Covey tells us to “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Empathy opens the mind, allows us to view life through others’ eyes, and widens our perspectives. Most of all, it makes us more sensitive to others. Empathy is a skill and can be learned by becoming a good listener, talking less, asking more questions more often, and seeking to understand. You don’t have to agree with others to understand. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it won’t kill you. However, it will change your thinking.

Consider the last great freedom-the ability to choose your response to every situation-and make the choice that empowers you and those around you.

Copyright 2019 Floor Focus 

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