One of the biggest perspective shifts I help clients make is around the areas of power and worth. This dynamic tension inevitably comes up at critical junctures within their career, especially when there is a need to advocate for oneself in terms of a promotion, increase in salary or a re-examination of responsibilities.
The Paradox of Powerlessness
There is a mindset shift that occurs where those of us from marginalized communities feel that we negotiate from a position of compromise or a weakened state. We are reluctant to ask for any accommodations or flexibility for fear that we would not be seen as a “team player”. Upon deeper examination, it is revealed that there are some big assumptions driving this fear, such as the idea that advocating for oneself isn’t seen as a good career move, or that by even taking time off is seen as a greater burden on the organization, so why ask for more?
There are a number of behaviors that inevitably give away power, but there are two common factors that feed these behaviors: Othering and belonging as well as the belief in a benevolent manager.
How Othering and Belonging Feeds Impostor Syndrome
The common refrain I hear from clients is a sentence that starts with “I’m lucky”, as in, “I’m lucky to be getting this offer”, or “I’m lucky to be part of this high-performing team”. This pattern of thinking is part of impostor syndrome, and in some cases, racial impostor syndrome, where we question our sense of belonging to a group due to our race, ethnicity, gender or any other identity that may make us an “outsider”.
This refrain seems to be directly correlated with the perceived externally-facing brand of the team or the organization. The underlying assumption (I’m an impostor) and the dissonance that occurs as a result (i.e., they want me, but I don’t belong here) forces a compromise even before the first conversations begin (I shouldn’t rock the boat). I see this happening often with clients who feel like they’re lucky to even have the opportunity to represent their gender, race, or ethnicity on the team or in the organization. Once they are in the organization, the dissonance continues as they feel that they need to change who they are in order to feel as though they belong.
The Belief in a Benevolent Manager
Another common assumption that comes up is that the primary role of a manager or leader will always advocate for each member of their teams, and the multicultural professional thus puts the power over their career in the hands of managers who often has way too much on their plate to be thoughtful about the career development of their employees. I see this happening often with clients who come from hierarchically-oriented cultures, and the misalignment of expectations is pronounced within organizations that have more of a flatter structure.
Reclaiming Your Professional Power
There are a number of strategies that you can use to confront some of your biggest assumptions and allow you to shift from a feeling of powerlessness to one of empowerment. Here are four strategies that may help start that shift for you:
The Power of the Pause
Do not accept offers or take on new projects without having an opportunity to take a step back and objectively examine each decision. Is this team a fit? Will your manager empower you in your role? Are there any warning signs you noticed? Are you accepting this opportunity because your influencers want it for you? The same goes for making critical career-defining career requests. What would be the ideal outcome by making this request? What exactly do I want to ask for? What do I hope to gain out of this request?
Know Your Worth
Clients often forget that they are being invited into a team or getting an opportunity to advance in their career because their skills, insights, knowledge and experience make them incredibly valuable to a team or organization. Switch the narrative from how lucky you are to be there, to how lucky the team is to have found you. Think about the ways in which you add value to a team or organization. Are you the “glue” that holds everyone together? Are you the “engine” that helps the team run smoothly? Are you the cultural expert that has insight into Central American consumer habits? Are you the empath that can “read the room”? These superpowers all have tremendous value and make you an indispensable part of the team. For many organizations, if the outcome isn’t quantifiable, then it tends to not be valued. Think about how your particular superpower makes an impact, and be strategic about sharing it with those around you.
Manager as Partner
Shift the responsibility of your career development from your manager to have it operate more like a partnership. The foundation of any type of partnership involves clear communication and a willingness to trust and share feedback and insights.
Find Your Supporters
If trust does not exist with your manager, then find another willing partner in your development, whether it is a peer, a mentor or anyone within your circle of trust. Embrace a group of supporters (some call it a success team, others a personal board of directors) who want you to be successful and bounce ideas off of them. Listen carefully to what they share, and accept compliments.
You have the ability to shift from powerlessness to empowerment. What is one thing you will do to shift your perspective today? To get started in the process, access Ten Questions to Transformation in the resources section of the Exceptional Futures website today!