Ambushed. Heat rising from my neck to my face. Heart beating faster. Brain on overdrive. Panic. Smile through clenched teeth. “Stay confident self.” Answer the question. Admit you don’t know and say you’ll find out and revisit it in the next  class. Answer the same question again. Admit you don’t know again. Answer that question yet again. Try  to move on without a shaking voice.

I thought for sure I was going to be FIRED.

This was my first semester as a college instructor and my boss, the Business Dean, was sitting in my classroom to observe and critique my teaching. I vividly remember the student who launched the SAME question at me THREE times, in hopes of making me look bad in front of my boss.  I remember where the student was sitting–back right corner of the classroom.  I remember what she looked like—dark hair, cut short, large dark brown eyes. I remember her name.

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ~Maya Angelou

How did I feel when that student ambushed me? Scared. Embarrassed. Ashamed.

A few days later I had the terrifying meeting with the Dean to discuss his observations.  He told me, “You did exactly what you should do. You will never know everything. The important thing is that you find out.”

How did I feel when my boss supported me? Relieved. Affirmed. Valued.


You have the power to make your employees, your customers, your coworkers, and your leaders feel disempowered or empowered.

If you want to disempower others at work (and boo if you do), try these:

  • Criticize
  • Blame
  • Ignore
  • Isolate
  • Exclude
  • Humiliate
  • Micromanage
  • Be inflexible

Now, if you want to empower others at work, try these:

  • Compliment
  • Recognize
  • Collaborate
  • Appreciate
  • Include
  • Listen
  • Support
  • Be honest

Help those around you feel empowered. Whatever you say and whatever you do, say it and do it in a way that honors both you and the other persons.  When you do, you will build respect, influence, and loyalty.


Choose two of the ways above to empower others AND do them!

P.S. The student above stopped in my office a couple years later when I was working into the evening. She explained. She apologized. I hugged her.

NOTE: This quote has been attributed to many. I haven’t been able to clearly identify where it originated, but my inspiration came when I first read it as a quote by Maya Angelou.

For more:

Be a Leader Employees Trust

How Not to GHOST a Coworker

Responsiveness and Customer Service

Empathy and Customer Service