Last week, we examined a few traits of empowerment. But how do we identify the reverse? What people think of as power may actually be a mask of cowardice.

The definition of power includes the “ability to do or act; strength; might; force.”

But just because someone has power in the workplace, it doesn’t mean they’re empowered.

When we talk about someone ‘wielding power’ – we may mean they are forcing their will on another.  This is not empowerment – in fact, this is showing weakness.  Someone empowered is confident; they know their strengths.  They have no need to bully anyone.

Five things empowerment is not:

1. Attempting to Enforce Only One Way – Your Way – of Doing Things.  Threatening others to get what one wants, or punishing work-mates when one doesn’t, isn’t about empowerment.  It shows a lack of confidence, flexibility and openness.

It’s hard to be open if one isn’t self-confident. And when people are closed, they try to force others to do things their way. But taking away someone’s autonomy in the workplace often backfires, resulting in lack of creativity, lowered employee morale, and gossip.

2. Using Your Influence to Harm Someone Else. One action that people often think is innocuous is the hoarding of information.  When someone is in a place of power, they sometimes think this is the way to keep it.  But in actuality, when you share, you build connections, leverage your position, and build trust with your team.

This is just one of many possible examples of how people in positions of power may try to ‘disempower’ others, harm them or try to hoard perceived power.

3. Talking Without Taking Action.  We all know someone who will go on and on about what they can do, but when the rubber meets the road, somehow the plan doesn’t come together.  Then there are usually a ton of excuses. Empowerment is about making things happen, not just talking about them.

4. Waiting for Someone to ‘Bestow’ Power on You.  You can ask for what you want in your workplace – you don’t have to wait for someone to give you power.  In fact, it’s up to you to empower yourself; others will see it and behave accordingly.

It’s really up to us to find out what salary we should command or fee we should charge.  It’s up to us to make the connections, learn our strengths and figure out how to leverage them.  And only we can put our own plans into action.

5. Thinking You’re Better Than Others. We’ve all seen Latinos who find themselves at the top of the heap, but somehow forget that others helped them get there. I find it truly sad when someone has the impression that they are better than another. We all have important, unique strengths and contributions.

At the end of the day, empowerment is a feeling of solidness, and inner strength.  This comes from knowing who you are, what matters to you, what skill sets you own, and the direction in which you’re going.

And how better to get started on true empowerment by knowing yourself and your abilities especially well?

Aurelia Flores is Senior Counsel at a Fortune 500 company and former Fulbright Fellow who graduated from Stanford Law School. Her website, PowerfulLatinas.com, offers stories of success, along with resources and programs focused on Latino empowerment.

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