Take Back Your Authority

Take Back Your Authority

When did the world lose its collective, management mind?  When did the employees start calling the shots?  I do not know the answer to either of those two questions, but I know it happened sometime in my working life.

I remember as a young kid talking to my dad trying to convince him to allow me to ride my bike 5 miles away into North Park.  He said no.  I tried to pull the old “Come on buddy, you know I’ll be careful.”  What he said stuck with me for the rest of my life, to date.  He said, “I’m not your buddy and I’m not your pal.  I’m your father and you will do what I tell you to do, when I tell you to do it.  And someday, when you’re an adult we can be best friends.”  He was right.  We were best friends, but only after his job as my authority figure ended.

I feel like that scene plays out day after day in business.  Workers buddy up to their bosses and expect to be treated like a peer with equal authority and equal benefits.  The only problem is management today has lost its collective mind and never fires back as my father did.  Management never sits the employees down to explain that they are in management for a reason.  That reason is to organize, motivate and mentor.  All three of those words imply authority and experience.  In many ways we are all equal, with regards to opportunities, fair treatment, honesty, and mutual respect.  However, managers and others in a position of authority have the additional responsibility of leadership.

I have been friends with a great many people that reported to me and to whom I reported.  We traveled together, ate together, worked long hours together, and celebrated successes together.  But we were all clear on the relationship.  I respected the position of those above and expected respect from my team.  (Author’s comment: notice that I stated that I respected the position above.  I have not always respected the person in that position.  But I never challenged the authority of their position.)

I read stories about students that challenge teachers’ authority and refuse to accept the curriculum they don’t want and get their way.  Employees challenge the authority of the management team on assignments and managers make alternate plans and reassign projects, so everyone feels good.   Professional athletes challenge the authority of the owners and coaching staff and the coaches back down and sometimes get fired.  How many superstars can you name that refuse to attend pre-season camp?  Lots.

Managers, please take back your authority.

  • It starts with respect – You must earn it.  They should respect your title, but you need to earn their personal respect.  Never let a subordinate hold you hostage.  Call their bluff.  Make them back down.  If they wish to take it that far, LET THEM QUIT.  Every resignation is an opportunity to find someone better.  Harsh?    But necessary.
  • Be organized – Come to meetings with a solid agenda and stick to it.  Take control and do not let it get away from you.  Blow a whistle to get control back if necessary.  Prohibit sidebar conversation.  Ban cell phones.  Make them pay attention, to you and each other.  Manners matter.
  • Master Project Management skills – Don’t just let things happen.  Manage with a purpose.  Have a project plan, assign resources, enforce start and end dates, and hold people accountable.
  • Communicate from authority – Use proper grammar.  Spell correctly on emails and texts. Work on using a professional vocabulary.  Word has a thesaurus.  Use it.  Jokes are fine at lunch or after work, but not in a meeting.  I must admit, this one is difficult for me.  I tend to diffuse with humor.  But once emotions settle, you must get control back.  Here is the catch, no shouting.  There is no reason for one adult to yell at another adult in a professional setting.  Master the art of “calm intimidation.”  It is a great skill for parents too.  Maybe a “calm intimidation” would make a good topic for a blog.
  • Have fun – after the work is finished. I used to end all my staff meetings by asking for “Humorous user anecdotes”.  Yes, users, we had a laugh at your expense.  Go ahead and keep making your geek jokes.

If you take back your authority, the petty battling for positioning stops.   The whining stops.  You start working together as a fully function team with a leader and dedicated resources all working towards one goal.  And someday, like me, you get to retire and are no longer in a position as an authority figure.  You can do a little consulting, play with your grandkids, and find yourself with a lot of ex-subordinates that are now leaders themselves, and great friends.

As always, please click the link below to leave a comment, ask a question, or tell a humorous anecdote.