How to Create Power for Yourself and for Your Community.
As feminists passionate about social justice and equity for all people in society, we often talk about power. One way in which feminism as a movement continues to dismantle oppressive systems and structures in society is by examining power imbalances and the abuse and misuse of power. Feminists advocate for the empowerment of historically marginalized groups, like women, people of color, children and those who live with disabilities. There is no denying the difference many activist and social justice groups have made in the re-distribution of power and there in no denying there is still much more to be done by these collectives. However, as individuals, to make a real difference in our local communities, we need to gain power in the spaces we occupy. Have you ever considered how much power you have as a Future Black Female? Have you ever wished there was more power to go around so that you can achieve something for yourself and others?
Types of Power
Before you harness your power as a Future Black Female you need to understand these 7 types of power and how you can get some, or more, depending on where you are, and what you have been doing so far. These types of power were identified by psychologists John French and Bertram Raven in 1959, with two added later.
1. Legitimate Power a person in a higher position controls people in lower positions. This is the typically power used in organizations and governments. Normally this power is given and can be taken away one way or another. To maintain this power one must be well-liked and effective. In organizations or communities, this power can be maintained by being a “good” leader.
2. Coercive Power is gained and maintained through force. It is dictatorial and uses fear and intimidation to subjugate people who have no respect or loyalty towards the leader. This kind of power is dangerous as it creates dissention and rebellion. People subjected to this kind of power will do the bare minimum and have no investment in the success of the organization or community.
3. Expert Power is status and influence gained and maintained by those with superior skills and knowledge. People respect the expertise of this kind of leader if not the person themselves. This kind of power has to be maintained by always proving one’s relevance and is easily threatened or lost should someone prove to have more knowledge or expertise. Therefore, one has to always be learning and improving when dependent on this type of power.
4. Informational Power is created by a demand for information. The supplier gains power by being the sole source of that information. This power is short-lived and very limited because one does not necessarily gain influence or respectable status even if they have information; and once the information is distributed to others, the power ceases.
5. Reward Power is gained and maintained through rewards and other incentives. As long as people are enticed by the benefits they will allow the reward system to determine who is in power. That means the one who wants that power must always have something considered valuable and “worth it” to those who will support their position of power.
6. Connection Power is attained through relationships with others with power. This kind of power depends completely on one’s network of influential people and often one has to be able to offer something to those in power to be of benefit to them. So, the leader reliant on connection power needs to know how to network, initiate and maintain relationships and leverage those relationships as power.
7. Referent Power is held by charismatic people with many apparent qualities such as integrity, intelligence, generosity, and others. This is considered the most valuable type of power as it is inherent and independent on the whims of others. Leaders who possess this kind of power are highly influential because they are admired and respected based on their character alone.
5 Ways to Greater Power
You would have noticed the use of the word “leader” in the descriptions of power. That’s because leadership is power executed in a responsible way, towards a transformative end. Starting with the most obvious, here’s what you need to do to become a powerful Future Black Female:
1. Be passionate about life-long learning. Going to college and university should not be seen as the end of your education. Always be open to learning and do not limit yourself as a learner to only one or two areas of expertise. Most educational systems will require you to declare a major, which eventually determines the rest of your career as a taxpaying citizen. The higher you go in the educational system, the more apparent these limitations become. People with doctoral degrees are highly specialized in one or two closely related areas of knowledge. Due to the amount of time and money it takes to get a doctoral degree, most people end at only one. However, even when you become a subject expert, you should seek more skills and knowledge. In the current global economy, people with multiple skills and areas of expertise are likely to survive any downturns and changes. Remember, expert power requires you to always be current and relevant through continuous learning.
2. Upgrade your people skills and learn to network so that you gain connection power. If you are too young or new to an industry, find a person who is established and well connected and ask them to mentor you. Networking is not just following someone on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. It is being actively engaged with people you friend or follow on social media but more importantly it is actually relating with them. Watch out for opportunities to support their causes, to volunteer, and to meet in real life. Above all, be genuine. People can spot a user a mile away. It’s not real power if it’s obtained through underhanded means.
3. Become an effective communicator. You cannot leverage your power as influence or leadership if you are not a good communicator. Leadership is a position of multichannel communication. It requires you to be skilled at using different platforms and channels. And it requires you to be able to relate with diverse people in an inclusive and equitable manner. Learn verbal, nonverbal, and digital communication. Learn to be an assertive communicator. Assertive communicators know how to give and receive constructive feedback. They are firm, fair and respectful even when a conflict arises. Assertive communicators also help others become more effective communicators by giving them space to express themselves, firmly, fairly and respectfully.
4. Establish your independence. Look at all the types of power and how easy it is to lose most of them. Independence does not mean rejecting and pushing people out of your life or insisting you don’t need anyone. Independence is also not accumulating possessions and money. Neither is it refusing to be a caregiver or stay-at-home mother because you will feel insecure if you don’t have a paycheck. A woman in a relationship may make the choice to stay home and care for the children thereby leaving the financial responsibilities to her partner. That does not make her dependent nor does it make her powerless. Independence is about having healthy relationships that do not make you indentured or enslaved to another person for your happiness, daily life, and survival. As a minor or child this is expected but the older you get the less you should be putting those responsibilities on others.
5. Work on your character. The most powerful people are those whom everyone can identify as having integrity, grace, and inherent goodness. A good character will get your further than skills, knowledge or information can alone. A good character will enhance any kind of power because it cultivates loyalty. People are willing and happy to follow a leader they can trust and respect. That is why in your life-long learning you should give considerable attention to understanding people and the systems in which people operate; in your networking, you should be authentic; in your communication you should be assertive; and in your independence, you should be responsible.
As a bonus, learn how to build wealth.
As a Future Black Female, when you dream about your future as a powerful woman, be sure you seek this power to execute it responsibly for a transformative end. The cliché, “With great power comes great responsibility,” is one you should not dismiss. Whatever you do with your life, use your individual power to bring positive change within your community, especially for the benefit of those that are marginalized and disempowered.