How to relativize authority
Authority. A word with numerous nuances. According to my life companion Merriam Webster, authority is "A person with a high level of knowledge or skill in a field". I love Merriam Webster and this definition. It implies that the meaning of authority should be assigned to someone with an outstanding knowledge in a certain field, and that this person is therefore given credit for that.
It is interesting as well because if you think the way we use this word, we see that sometimes we forget that an authority is a person or institution which is given the authority to do something, because he/she/it knows what this something is really about.
Yesterday, listening to Adam Grant's podcast WorkLife, somebody said something similar, by saying that natural leadership comes from knowledge rather than status. And yet, some people at work give it a more scary and intense meaning, which would be n. 2 on Merriam Webster:
" Lawful control over the affairs of a political unit".
Dear managers, please, try to be meaning number one. Be respected and looked up to because you have the knowledge and the skills to be there, do not exercice authority because of your supposed status!
Dear employees, why are you sometimes scared by the authority that your boss represents? Or why are you scared of authority? Having grown up in southern Italy, for me it is easy to understand why. Bosses are somehow considered like Gods in that working system. Whatever the knowledge or skills this person has, everyone will be scared, because you know, it's the boss. Things that bosses say sometimes are not even challenged.
Managers don't make it easy sometimes to have their employees consider them as humans. Some are never accessible and work behind close doors and maintain that distance that only power or status can create.
However, each of us can do little things to relativize authority (when it is exercised like meaning number 2) and change the perspective about things, and make work more bearable. Here some of my tips, if you are a person who finds it difficult to question "authoritative" figures:
- Remember your manager is a person too. With a schedule, maybe a family, passions and hobbies. He/she is not a god/goddess coming from another planet;
- Do not think every idea your manager mentions equals the Holy Bible. You and your team certainly have the ability to challenge and question virtually anything it is said. If you always say YES, then you become a follower, as if your boss managed a Facebook page you have liked. Interact on that "page"(I would like to know what would happen if managers created a community group on Facebook).
- Dare to say NO to a few things, if those things are unrealistic requests. You need to know your goals in that company and to know your values. If one of your main values is time spent doing sports, you have to find your way to make it clear. You will not practice your favorite sports by working till 9 pm!
- There are different manager styles, but if your boss enjoys challenges, then it is easier to bring a new idea and your point across. If the style is the "work until you drop otherwise I restructure you", ask for a few 1to1s. Try to get the manager trust you and know who you are and your values. Working the right amount of time and then dedicate yourself to a hobby does not make you a "traitor" of the system!
- Did you know that your boss has a boss too, and this other boss is probably the reason your boss is tormenting you sometimes? Look at the bigger picture and do not take things too personally. Sometimes it is not about you. Sometimes people are just stressed.
- Relax, make a few jokes sometimes in the team. Organize a Friday lunch or an after work drinks session and invite the manager. See how you can get closer and do something different besides working.
Last but not least. A coaching question: What is the worst that can happen, if your manager gets to know your "outside of business/informal" self? And also, what would you do if you discovered that your boss has weaknesses as any other human being?
Thanks for reading! Now please share it around the world, so we can all challenge our vision of authority at work!