Do you ever wonder if you are acting responsibly with the power you have? For so long, communities of color were hungry to get to the decision making table. And then we arrived and got some institutional poder (power). But when we got that power, sometimes we acted irresponsibly. We made decisions about who was in the circle and who was outside of it. We allocated resources to certain projects and not others. We held grudges against people who didn’t promote us or disagreed with us. We even prevented others from advancing the work, in the name of process and procedures. Sound familiar? Have you ever looked back and wondered if you stepped over the line on the road to building power? I’ll will be the first to admit that I have at times misused the power I held. When I was starting out in my career, I was hungry to be in a powerful position and to hold powerful relationships. I thought behaving like the powerful people around me was the only way to gain power, would bring me happiness and advance the economic rights of working class communities, an issue dear to my heart. I worked extra hard at acquiring relationships and roles that gave me a position of authority where I could make decisions over the people and institutions who wanted access to the resources I held. Well, they were not exactly my resources, were they? They belonged to the organization I worked for. I had been entrusted by the institution I worked for to protect their values and mission and to represent them based on those values.
Sometimes, the decision making lines would get gray for me. The answers were not bright line decisions. The more decision making authority I was given, the more difficult the problems became because I was reconciling my values, with the organization’s values and needs. Sound familiar? When I held a position with more authority over another organization or individual, I sometimes made decisions that felt yucky. The reason they felt yucky is because I lacked authenticity in those decisions. I had not found a middle ground. I did not agree with my boss or I believed that I had strayed from the organization’s mission and my own values. Once you’re in the gray area you have to vigorously protect your values and decide for yourself, if your choices line up to what you are trying to accomplish in this world.
When we are seeking power, sometimes we rationalize our decision making process to make it okay for our heart to follow our head. Sometimes I told myself I was smarter than my colleagues or that these were sacrifices necessary to win. Sometimes I told myself I did not have a choice and that I had to do what my boss wanted or lose my job. In the end, these were all excuses. I made a choice and I have to own those decisions and their outcomes. We all have to own our choices and who we leave in and out of the table.
One day I woke up and decided I was not going to make decisions that interfered with my core values anymore. I no longer wanted my leadership role to feel small and insignificant. If I was going to work from a place of love and compassion to change the world, I had to make choices from that source of personal power. I began looking to my personal sources of power, the place where all my energy, ideas and creative thinking comes from. This source allowed me to genuinely listen, become mindful of my privileged decision-making role, and to strengthen my relationships with the people I was working with.
It also changed how I saw other people’s power. Everyone has personal power and my role was to find a connection between my values and theirs. By doing so, I never felt a deficit. Instantly I felt there were enough resources and staff because I began to relate to people from a place of trust, love and respect, no matter what position they held and who they represented. I could see the wealth of resources they brought to the table in new ways.
If you are only looking externally, you will never have enough power. Your personal power is everything – it is the source of your energy, your influence and the vision you have for this world. Learning to wield that power mindfully by genuinely listening and reaching across the aisle from an authentic place will help make your vision for this world real. By looking internally, you will see the resources and value you and others bring. By opening up my vision I learned to see all the power in front of me, no matter who held it. By being mindful of my leadership and behavior, I also began to tap into opportunities and ideas to create long term change. My work instantly became more fulfilling and I gained back a sense of balance and authenticity.
Whether you are inside or outside the circle, here are a three ways to responsibly unleash your power:
- Learn about the different forms of power. It’s important to familiarize yourself with different forms of power and think about how you want to use them. Consider co-powering, a form of power often used in the Latino community that encourages mindful leadership and supports the use of personal power through modeling, validating and feedback.
- Power is “here today, gone tomorrow.” Institutional, positional and referred power is fluid. They are only available as long as you hold the relationships of those you represent. They also come with the responsibility of upholding the organization’s vision, mission and values. When you reach that leadership rung, work from a place of purpose and remember your values.
- Our cultural values are powerful. Your consciousness of community, class or culture may not be a core part of the dominant culture but it is a form of power and can be used to empower others. Our community’s journey and experiences can be a source of pride and strength. Think of ways your culture can bring more people to the table.
How are you mindful of your power? Share with me…