What do you think of when you hear the term 'empowerment' or 'empowering others'?
The Oxford dictionary defines Empowerment as the process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one's life and claiming one's rights.
When it comes to the professional world it is often linked to the engagement of staff and ‘making them feel empowered’ to support and drive the organisation towards its objectives. But organisations often have it all wrong because the open-door policy that supports this engagement is at times not quite as open as those ‘being empowered’ would like.
The psychological phenomenon of empowerment is a process in which people become more confident in their ability to master a particular skill, or feel they are more able to challenge the norms that they perceive to be outdated. This feeling of empowerment however, goes much deeper than just in the work context and is more fragile than most realise.
Many of us have a work, and a life persona. Many of us feel more empowered, confident, and brave in one of those aspects of our life. But when it comes to our authentic self, there is often a disconnect between the two.
If not emotionally aware enough, one professional knock, one failure, one time when a senior leader didn’t have the door open, can lead to a dissolution of empowerment in a blink of an eye. This can happen because our work and life balance of confidence is often not matched; and insecurities can creep in from one to the other and cause some serious damage to the confident exterior that has taken (sometimes) years to build.
Our human brains are naturally wired to focus or expect the negative; if you don’t believe me read the book Factfulness by Hans, Anna, and Ola Rosling. Because of this hard wiring it is much easier to break confidence and the feeling of empowerment than it is to build it.
The Dunning-Kruger effect shows us why. Confidence is proven to be high when people have little skill or experience (they don’t know what they don’t know so they overestimate their ability). However (and sadly), as expertise builds up in terms of experience and knowledge, we realise how much more there is to learn and add a negative bias to our confidence levels assuming we are not as good as we think we are. Interestingly, the Dunning-Kruger effect shows that even when someone is deemed a master at something, their confidence is never as high as it was before they understood their field!
So even with years of experience, and knowledge gleaned from oneself and others, confidence and that feeling of empowerment is still hard to find and easy to knock down. But when you find it, when you feel empowered and confident you will feel on top of the world and will achieve some amazing things!
The key at that point is not to be too cocky with it and empathise with others and their personal empowerment journey; as well as to keep re-centering yourself through mindfulness or other techniques that enable deep thought and understanding of your authentic self.
The APM National Conference for Women in Project Management, 2018, sponsored by BAE Systems is exploring the concept of empowerment and aims to provide guidance on empowering the self and the team, as well as provide some hands-on skills masterclasses to give delegates the confidence to feel, act, and be both empowered and inspired.