Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Empowerment and Action

I firmly believe that individuals achieve their greatest successes when they become part of something larger than themselves. I also believe that we achieve our best when we succeed as a community. Community, no matter how you define it (global, national, city, neighborhood, campus), can only succeed if those involved are committed and empowered. Certainly our country’s most recent national elections prove that point.

As I sat in the Commons of the Academic Building earlier this week, trying to encourage others to participate in our mock presidential election, I enjoyed my interaction with students. I also enjoyed the social experiment element, in terms of gaining a window on what motivates people to participate. What are the intellectual and emotional processes that drive individuals to turn toward an unknown direction or untested proposal? Why do some people want to engage in and learn more about new ideas, while others act like they don't hear or see the call to gain their attention? Reflecting on an historic presidential election - the first in fifty years without an incumbent President or Vice President on either ticket - I think about those who chose not to vote; not to engage; not to participate. While tens of millions of Americans fulfilled their obligation to vote last Tuesday, millions of others stayed home.

What is the price that comes from choosing to sit idly while afforded opportunity passes by?

I've been thinking about that question a lot lately, both in terms of the election and in terms of how our faculty and staff engage in the life of the College. If opportunities offered faculty and staff are not engaged, how is the institution’s direction affected? When does the accumulation of missed opportunities lead to institutional stagnation or, worse, willing complacency?

The American Heritage Dictionary definition of empowerment is, "to equip or supply with an ability; to enable." If people don't believe they are empowered, feel empowered or act empowered, how do they move forward? What advantage is there to providing opportunity for engagement if those involved are unable or unwilling to trust the validity of the offer?

Because our mission is so critically important to individual students and our greater community, success or crisis on campus is – or should be - a shared commodity. The triumph or failure of one department should prompt the pride or concern of all. We should all be proud then when, each year, hundreds of smiling associate degree and certificate holders cross our commencement stage on their way to achieving their life goals. In the same breath, we should all be concerned when one student fails to thrive!

As an institution dedicated to the realization of human potential, our sense of connection comes only when we engage in things beyond the j-o-b. This type of engagement comes only through individual empowerment. I recognize that the primary condition that allows individuals, offices, and departments to feel and act empowered is multi-level leadership that understands how to support opportunities that enable. It also requires balance, dialogue, teamwork, and...oh, I almost forgot...time.

I believe MVCC stands at a point of demarcation - a point at which a cultural shift has the opportunity to occur. For that to happen, we all need to nurture it every day we come to work, through actively empowered engagement! I'd appreciate your thoughts on empowerment and the journey ahead. Share your thoughts with me at presblog@mvcc.edu.