Executive director, principal, manager, often we associate leadership with titles. I often do not see people that look like me in leadership positions. It is rare even in helping professions to see the identities of the people served reflected in the leadership of an organization. Yet, leadership is more than titles. Leadership is the ability to influence regardless of the power dynamic.
I do not necessarily have to have a title in order to be a leader. Women of color can be leaders simply by being ourselves. We can lead by living into the purpose for which we brought forth to this world. The world needs us-our voices, talent, art. We are medicine. We are magic. And when we shrink and fade into the background we deprive the world of that.
Leadership is about caring beyond what affects me directly. It is about intersectionality between race, gender, class, religion, sexual orientation and other identities. We may have privilege in some arenas and be at a disadvantage in others. In spaces where I can leverage privilege to the benefit of others, it is an opportunity to lead towards social justice.
Leadership is also having the vulnerability not to have all the answers. It’s challenging to look a client, a student, a colleague in the eye and not be able to reassure them that everything will be ok but what I can offer is being present with them in struggle. Leadership is empathy in an unempathetic world; compassion in the midst of chaos and uncertainty. Leadership is marching knowing that others paved the way for you and that others will follow in your footsteps.
I first heard the term empower in college. As a social worker often empowerment is discussed as empowering disenfranchised people; a verb. An action done to those that lack privilege because of race, gender, socioeconomic status or other facet of identity. It is described as a giving of power from those with privilege to those that lack privilege. Yet, where does this power come from? What assumptions are made about power in this giver and receiver dichotomy?
I'm coming to the realization that empowerment is not about the transfer of power from one person that holds it to another that doesn't. I do not believe there is a shortage of power or that it is a finite resource that needs to mined or hoarded. Empowerment is when a person comes to realization of what lies within them already- talents, energy, dreams, vision, passion. It is already there waiting to be woken up.
Power can be relinquished, dreams can fade into the background of the fight for survival and significance. Vision can become blurry in a world of competing priorities. Passions can flicker and burn out seeking to change society where power has been defined through the narrow telescope of material wealth.
Just like a tree can come back from a harsh winter to blossom in spring, we can tap into our breath and life and find ourselves again. With faith and love we can awaken the power to be who we are, who we are meant to be, who the world needs us to be; our true empowered selves.