September 4, 2020


Enabling Others to Act

Each EmpowerED 3.2.1 features a brief summary of my musings about and learning from multiple disciplines as they apply to leadership in education. 


My favorite resource to use when teaching leadership is The Leadership Challenge by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner. The real-life stories are relatable; the tips are useful and insightful; and the practices taught align to any leadership role. This EmpowerED 3.2.1 takes leadership practice four and deconstructs its components and supports them with resources from other industries, especially education. 


3 Big Ideas

  1. Strengthen Others. Let’s begin by looking at your own experience. What enables you? What disables you? Think about a time when someone else’s words or action made you feel powerful—capable, competent, strong, important. Now, think about a time when someone else’s words or action made you feel powerless—took the wind out of your sail, made you feel small, insignificant, or weak. What did the person say or do? What are the implications for you as a leader? We all are guilty of disabling others. I doubt that any of us are intentionally making others feel powerless. Why do we do it then? When I ask this question, I get responses like, “too much pressure,” or “not enough time,” etc. Researcher and professor Gloria Mark writes in “Too Many Interruptions at Work” that we are interrupted every three to five seconds.  Each of these interruptions gives us an opportunity to enable or disable someone. Mark notes it is the thoughtful leader who is deliberately paying attention and able to take advantage of those moments and enable others.
  2. Facilitate Relationships. Building trust is key to establishing and maintaining positive and productive relationships that enable others to act.  Leaders I know who are skilled at enabling others to act:
    • Share information.
    • Involve people in making decisions that affect their work and life.
    • Allow discretion for decisions.
    • Back people up when they make a decision.
    • Assign non-routine jobs.
    • Clear away obstacles.
    • Eliminate non-essential rules.
    • Get people to talk about their goals, hopes, aspirations for the future.

    Want to build closer relationships? Kara Cutruzzula captures the advice of seven TED speakers in “How to Build Closer Relationships.” Kara ponders the answer to this question and thinks, “there are a number of reasons such as timing, competing commitments, differences of opinion, geography–why emotional distance can creep into the most important bonds.” 

  3. Develop Competence. When someone says they are operating in “the zone” what do they mean? Can you recall a time you were in your “zone?”  What was going on? How did you feel? The concept of getting to this state was developed by Hungarian social scientist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi which he writes about in “8 Ways To Create Flow According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.“He studied peak human performance while at the University of Chicago. He found that we are at our peak performance, our flow, our zone when we have found the right balance between factors of challenge in the task/situation and our skill or ability to perform them. Knowing your staff and their ASK (attitudes, skills, knowledge) is key to helping them get into their zones of peak performance. Implications for leaders include providing more learning and development opportunities; investing more in training; doing more coaching; and assigning people to teach others.


“There are two ways of exerting one’s strength: one is pushing down, the other is pulling up.”
– Booker T. Washington


“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.

1 Question

What is the impact on your productivity and your morale when
someone does or says something that makes you feel powerful?



About the Author: Marcia Baldanza is also the author of Professional Practices, a Just ASK Senior Consultant. and adjunct professor at Virginia Tech. Until recently she worked for the School District of Palm Beach County, Florida, where she was an Area Director for School Reform and Accountability; prior to that she was Director of Federal and State Programs.










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