In a previous article, we explored what author Robert Keck, Ph.D called “Pro-Active Empowerment.  In this followup article, we’ll explore a second aspect of empowerment.

Re-Active Empowerment

Re-active Empowerment is about taking charge of our response-ability or the power that we have to choose our response to the various challenges that confront us.

There is often a subtle “victim” that lives within many of us. The face of the victim might be seeing oneself as insignificant or powerless in bringing about change.  It may be the face of hopelessness or compliance. It may show itself as a dependency on authority (even while we react to authority), or the need to be “saved” by some external power–a “savior”, leader, or expert. The “victim” may also take on the face of the bully, controlling others as a means to avoid looking deeply into one’s own life.

The truth is that each of us has enormous inner power to be used for good. But often this power is layered over by many protective or reactive coverings.  We may be operating from an assumption (either individually or collectively) that is creating a false sense of “reality” or certainty.  By taking the time to identify and explore the patterns and hot spots that frequently hook us into automatic responses as well as our “big assumptions”,[1] we have the capacity to re-frame a situation and then choose a different means of interacting either in attitude or behavior. Energy can be shifted from trying to make something “go away” toward creating shared action for bringing something new into being.  While this is challenging stuff, usually it is not that we don’t have what it takes, but more often that we haven’t slowed down enough to see/hear beneath the surface of things or given ourselves time to create and experiment with different responses.  It takes time and practice to create new pathways of responding and interacting with life and others.

In order to do this, we will need to put our need for instant gratification aside and settle in with an attitude of hope and determination. Making a decision to choose our responses to challenges and opportunities is not something that happens over night.  In my experience a good starting point is reflecting on my motivation.  For me, the heart of this decision is about choosing to love–first loving and accepting myself, then making the choice to love and accept others.  (This does not mean agreeing with everything that is said or done, but more about choosing to respect and treat myself and others as “I/Thou”[2]).  Paul Tillich the theologian reminds us that Love is a power that is available to all because it is supported by the deepest laws of the universe.  “A fresh interpretation of Love is needed that shows love not as an emotional, but as an ontological power.  Love is the essence of life itself, namely the dynamic reunion of that which has been separated within us, between us, and among us.”[3]  Connecting to this power of Love makes it possible to choose responses of clarity, integrity, and accountability, as well as empathy and inclusion; responses that are less anxious and more trusting; responses that are capable of inviting engagement even in the midst of conflict and challenge.

Claiming the power to choose one’s response is a very significant shift.  Leaders will find that this shift leads to a genuine sense of individual and collective power as people orient themselves to their deepest values and beliefs. We begin with ourselves so that we can be credible in inviting others to join us.

It is important to note that the journey to clarifying and choosing our response-ability is likely to invite resistance in some form or another. We can expect it. Sometimes the resistance may be our own as we get weary from the need to do inner and outer work simultaneously. Often the resistance comes from others in our group or organization. The challenge for leaders is to stay clear and continue to make choices about how one will respond instead of getting hooked back into automatic or reactionary responses. Eventually, others will learn that the needed changes are here to stay and will either join up in making the new vision a reality or take their leave.

For further exploration:

  • What is a “face” that you commonly bring to your leadership? What are your most common responses to challenges that come your way?
  • Identify a particular “hot spot” that is hooking a reaction in you presently. Step away from the externals as you can, and observe yourself in the interaction. (Or possibly with the assistance of a coach). What do you see?
  • Focus on your own feelings. As you sit with your feelings, what are they telling you?  Are feelings part of your re-activity?
  • How might this situation be re-framed?
  • What are your options for a different attitude, interaction, or action?

In the next article, we will explore the Courage to be Empowered.


1 See Kegan & Lahey for a fuller exploration of “big assumptions”.  Kegan, Robert and Lisa Laskow Lahey. Immunity to Change: How to Overcome it and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization.
2 Martin Buber.  I And Thou. trans. Ronald G Smith.
3 Source unknown.

Categories: Empowerment