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What is Empowerment?

I'm going to talk about the concept of empowerment to make a few points today...

As I close my eyes, I visualize a mindmap where I have empowerment in a circle at the center. From the center circle, definition, feeling, obstacles, and impact shoot off to four corners of the page. These are the core themes in my ethnographic discovery that will guide the development of my individualized coaching and mentorship services.

So far in my conversations, I have been astounded by the stories from women around the world who share a passion for empowered female leaders. In my first interview, I immediately learned that empowerment is not a word translatable to many languages. The concept of empowerment is global: what allows people to rally around a movement that does not exist in their language?

My leading interview questions help me address just that.

In my marketing research, it is becoming clear that in general, women use a wide range of definitions and feelings that express empowerment. This is good in the sense that the term allows us to personalize what it means to be empowered. But at the same time, it's a bit baffling to think that while so much energy has been spent on women's empowerment, as a collective, we are unable to offer a consistent operational definition of the term. 

Definition: In my interviews, I noticed that it is easier for women to express the feelings associated with empowerment than to define very succinctly what it means. Essential components of the definition so far include:

  • A need for internal and external development;

  • Strategic decision making and assertiveness;

  • Space and resources for a specific context; and

  • Personal self-care or wellness strategies.

Feeling: The feelings of empowerment reflect the terrain of a mountain. Every woman I speak to mentions the feeling of extreme fear coupled with blind-faith and courage. To me, this means that universally, empowerment allows leaders to make decisions in the face of adversity. I believe there is one component missing. I will reveal that at a later time.

Obstacles: Supervisors and employee. While working for a supervisor that is a mentor can present growth benefits, my interviewees have made it clear that a supervisor with little interest, awareness, or involvement in the development of their subordinates is a large factor on the path to empowerment. The other contributing obstacle is fear (e.g. fear of failure) that creeps up from within. These fears act as ever growing distractions and detractors from personal development if not actively squelched.

Impact: The significance of empowerment for every woman I have interviewed corresponds with social change. In other words, empowerment for female leaders opens the doors to innovation and creative change where people are served most frequently on a day-to-day basis: faith, education, and health.

Parting reflections for you...

What is empowerment?

When have you felt the most disempowered as a leader?

When have you felt the most powerful as a leader?

What is the significance of personal empowerment?

What is the next immediate step on your journey of leadership development?

Keep your eyes peeled for an invitation to my participatory webinar where I will reveal the results of my research and present a special offer to my immediate network and collaborators.


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