What Is Personal Empowerment?
Taking Charge of Your Life and Career
"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." – Eleanor Roosevelt
Do you ever feel that you have no control over your life and work? Perhaps you feel dominated by your colleagues, or overwhelmed by the demands of your job. Or is your time outside the workplace spent tending to other people's needs at the expense of your own?
This sense of powerlessness can be immensely frustrating. But, no matter what personal challenges you face, you can always make choices that give you back control. Understanding this is the essence of self-empowerment.
In this article, we examine personal empowerment in more detail, and explore the tools and techniques that you can use to achieve it.
What Is Personal Empowerment?
Personal empowerment is about taking control of your own life, and making positive decisions based on what you want.
Personal empowerment means giving yourself permission to succeed. But it doesn't mean "going it alone." Chances are, you'll need the input, support and guidance of others to achieve your objectives.
And, in many cases, you'll need their permission, too, in the form of trust, resources, time, or autonomy, for example.
Bear in mind that "empowerment" is not the same as "entitlement." People who feel entitled tend to believe that benefits and privileges should come to them automatically, while empowered people achieve success through hard work, reflection and cooperation.
What Does Personal Empowerment Feel Like?
We all experience self-empowerment in different ways, depending on our personalities and our circumstances. Let's look at an example:
Nancy and Geraint work in a store as sales clerks. They've worked there for several years but neither has sought a promotion, even though they both have the skills and knowledge to move up the ranks.
Do they feel empowered?
In Nancy's case, the answer is actually "yes." Nancy likes her job as it is. She's been offered a more senior role, but she made a conscious decision to turn it down, because she didn't want the extra responsibility. However, she feels confident enough to apply again later if things change.
Geraint, on the other hand, is frustrated. He wants the salary and job satisfaction that come with promotion, but he's convinced that he would be rejected if he applied for a management position.
Geraint feels powerless to change his situation, so he doesn't try. It's a vicious circle: the lack of an opportunity to prove himself has reduced his motivation and sense of empowerment. As a result, his performance suffers, and he's overlooked by the people who could give him the promotion that he wants.
How to Achieve Self-Empowerment
It can be difficult to see the way out of a situation like Geraint's. You desperately want to feel stronger, and to make a bigger impact, but how do you do it?
Consider this four-step process for self-empowerment:
1. Know Yourself
When you feel that you lack power, your confidence and self-esteem can take a knock, too. Developing your self-awareness can help you to understand why you feel this way, and to take charge of your emotions and actions.
Start by considering your locus of control – the extent to which you believe that you are the master of your own destiny, or that your outcomes are determined by external forces, people or events. Understanding this distinction can enable you to take responsibility for your own empowerment, and to adopt a mindset that fosters learning and growth.
Then, analyze your strengths and weaknesses. Listing all of the things that you're good at – and that you could be great at – can be hugely empowering in itself. Building on those strengths, and knowing how to deal with your limitations, can give you an even bigger boost.
Understanding yourself better is a core aspect of emotional intelligence (EI), a key skill in the workplace. Developing your EI allows you to see how your emotions and behavior affect the people around you. This will likely make it easier for you to get others "on board" to help you to achieve your goals.
2. Identify Your Goals
Pinpoint the areas of your life where you feel unhappy, or where you feel at the mercy of an individual, an organization, or a set of circumstances. If you're not sure where to start, our interactive Wheel of Life tool can help you to identify these areas.
Ask yourself whether you really do lack power in these situations. (Our article, Working With the Control Influence Accept Model, can be useful here.) Be honest. Are you being too modest about your abilities or achievements? Or, could you be afraid of success?
Focus on the areas that mean the most to you, and which correspond with your personal values. At work, for example, you might want to take on more responsibility, to increase your expertise, or to ask for a change in your work schedule.
Frame these target areas as SMART goals. In particular, focus on making them achievable. Research suggests that your sense of personal empowerment increases when you track the positive effects of the changes that you make. So, set realistic goals and create an Action Plan for reaching them.
3. Develop Your Competencies
To feel empowered, you may depend on another person – often your boss – to confer power upon you. But it's no use sitting back and waiting to be promoted, or to be put in charge of an exciting new project. You need to earn that power.
To do this, you may need to learn new skills, or to refresh your existing ones.
Revisit your SMART goals and think about the skills or knowledge that you need. These could be personal qualities, such as tact or initiative; "soft skills," such as communication and conflict resolution; technical skills, like learning a new computer program; or a combination of all three.
To avoid becoming overwhelmed, start small, and work your way up to bigger steps. For example, you could speak up more often in meetings, volunteer for extra work in the field that interests you, or attend a training course.
If you're a manager, empowering your team members can increase their engagement, creativity and job satisfaction. To learn more about this, take a look at our article, Equipping Your Team to Make Decisions, and our Bite-Sized Training™ session, Empowerment and Delegation.
4. Claim Your Space
You can measure the success of your personal empowerment process by the impact that it has on your life.
If your actions have moved you closer toward your goals, you have already succeeded in empowering yourself, and hopefully you will feel more empowered, too.
If that's not the case, you may still have work to do – and that's normal. Personal empowerment rarely happens overnight. Once you've taken your first steps, ask for feedback from your co-workers, your mentor, or friends and family to help you to identify what you could do next.
Persistence and resilience are empowering in themselves, and gradually, as you learn from experience and refine your approach, your sense of personal power will grow.
Personal Empowerment Exercises
The following techniques and exercises can help to support you during the self-empowerment process. Find the ones that suit you, and practice them regularly!
- Journaling. Keeping a record of your progress enables you to see how far you've come – and to remember where you went wrong!
- Cognitive restructuring. Challenging the beliefs that underpin a sense of powerlessness can enable you to view your situation in a different light.
- The ABC Technique enables you to see the consequences of negative thought patterns, and to become more optimistic.
- Affirmations. Repeating positive thoughts to yourself can give you a greater sense of well-being and self-belief.
- Exercise. Take a walk. Go for a bike ride. Work out at the gym. When your body feels good, you feel good. And when you feel good, you'll feel more powerful.
- Find an inspirational role model. Learn how this person overcame his or her own challenges – if they did it, so can you.
- Talk. If you need an instant boost, talk to a supportive friend or colleague and let them tell you how great you are!
Personal empowerment is the sense that you are in control of your life. It enables you to make positive decisions, and to take action that will bring you closer to achieving your goals and ambitions.
To become more self-empowered, use this four-step process:
- Know Yourself: understand your motivations, and your strengths and weaknesses.
- Identify Your Goals: identify the aspects of your life that are the most important to you, and where you can create meaningful change.
- Develop Your Competencies: focus on the skills or qualities that will allow you to reach your goals.
- Claim Your Space: take your first few steps! Then review and reflect on your achievements so far, and adjust your approach if necessary. If it's appropriate, seek feedback from the people around you to ensure that you stay on track.
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