Empowerment: being less directive and less nurturing

During a recent one-on-one evaluation with one of the participants of my brain based coaching training, I was more than pleasantly surprised by a remark one of them made. He said “I have learned that, in a dialogue with a co-worker, “my idea” is not what it is about. My idea is only an idea. My role is to inspire and empower, and that can’t be done by imposing my ideas”. I feel that this is a really powerful way of formulating the core of this training. It illustrates the essence of empowerment and, what’s more, the essence of training in brain based coaching.

Not many managers empower

Not many managers empower. The result of their behaviour and attitude is exactly the opposite, it adversely affects the empowerment of the employee, who remains out of touch with his personal strength. This negative conduct is defined by, roughly speaking, two characteristics, two that prevent empowerment, i.e., being overly directive or overly nurturing.

Overly directive

When a manager is overly directive, he is too instructional. He tells his staff what they are expected to do and how to perform their expected tasks, without providing space and trust. This management style supresses the personal growth of staff members, they are not encouraged to reflect on how to tackle their tasks and as a result, their brain becomes dull. Furthermore, when confronted with a highly directive management style the brain can react with feelings of insecurity and enter the so-called survival network.

Overly nurturing

In contrast to a coercive management style, there are also managers who are overly nurturing. This attitude doesn’t empower staff either. A nurturing attitude makes the brain dull too. There is the distinct possibility that the staff member’s brain feels overly safe and isn’t challenged any longer. An overly nurturing manager exhibits excessive responsibility vis-à-vis the wellbeing of his staff.

The golden mean, not too directive, not too nurturing

So, when we consider empowerment, it is important not to be coercive and not to be overly nurturing. The purpose of empowerment is that staff members embrace their responsibility while the manager acts as a motivator. This process can be positively enhanced by the managers’ attitude. When he has the right attitude, the staff member will automatically find his personal strength. This attitude involves setting boundaries and asking effective questions.

Setting boundaries and providing context

In meetings with the staff, time and again, boundaries should be set and context should be given. This is important for both the manager and the staff. For the brain too, it isn’t always evident where boundaries lie. Boundaries are often expressed in information that is given at one time but remains abstract. Concrete boundaries provide a feeling of security. Boundaries and context give the brain, and hence the staff member, a well-defined and safe playing field.

Asking questions

A manager should not just tell his staff what to do, but should ask effective questions. Such a question makes the other person reflect on future actions. An effective question is not an analysing question, those should be asked only rarely. An example of an analytical question is: “why have you acted the way you have?”  An action oriented question may be: “what will you do in the future to improve this achievement even more?”


Let’s face it, we are all creatures of  or to put it differently, we have certain habits when it comes to the way we approach things. With lots of practice, a change is easy to accomplish. That is the focus of the training brain based coaching: developing a different attitude, in particular one that will empower staff members. You’ll understand how grateful I felt when I heard the insight I started this blog with.

Share this post