Power is just an illusion.
My father once said to me: “People are confused about power. The more you progress up the ladder in a company, the less power you actually have”.
I was puzzled. He continued: “the further removed you are from the actual task, the more reliant you are on other people doing their jobs. If they don’t want to do it anymore, that is the end of you”.
That was a perspective I had not considered. I was barely a teenager, and I had a very immature and simplistic view of power, and also about work. You need work because you need the money, therefore employees do as they are told, otherwise they don’t get paid and it ends up with famine. I thought that when you became the boss, you could fire people or give them pay rises, lure them with salaries and exploit them because of the financial relationship. You could reign through fear and money. Surely employees would do anything to keep their employment?
We have just had a huge snowstorm, and the different teams I am involved with for various projects have not been able to make it to the office today. They are stuck at home with no signal, no internet and some without electricity. I have had to fill in for my colleagues. It was great for me as I was reminded of all the hard work which goes into getting things done, especially at the high quality standard at which we aim to deliver. Details that one forgets when one is looking at the big picture, and ends up being unaware of.
And right as I was trying to speak to the right person to cancel a sandwich order for the meeting that was postponed, read a governance document and mute my mobile from an incoming call, my father’s words smacked me in the face. If my team didn’t want to work anymore, that indeed would be the end of me. Let me tell you one thing: never EVER take your colleagues for granted.
The probability for all the staff to resign in one go is fairly low, I thought, as I tried to grip self. But then it dawned on me that resigning is the far end of the spectrum of how a team can stop contributing, willingly or not. If my team is disengaged or demotivated, even if they are still employed, chances are that this also would bring me dangerously close to “the end of me”.
You will be glad to know that my simplistic views of employment have evolved. And my experience on the Leadership in Management programme has been paramount in that. I can threaten and coerce to get people to do something. The good thing with the programme is that it gave me the opportunity to try that route, and trust me, it doesn’t end well. Or don’t trust me and come and try for yourself. The other option was to “use my personal power, to win hearts and minds, to achieve a common purpose”.
With the ambitions that we (and I insist on the “we”, because everyone was involved in establishing the ambitions for the company) have, everyone needs to be contributing 100%. We can’t have people paying lip service to their job description. We need every one to dig deep into what they can achieve and complete tasks at the very highest standard. And can I get that through fear and money? Absolutely not. I will get that from employees who want that too.
So as the sun sets on the snow and on 2017, I would like to share the gratitude I have for my team. They are extraordinary people who have taken up a challenge and giving it their best. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not all rosy. We aren’t a harmonious band of cherubs agreeing to everything. We have plenty of fruitful friction. We disagree. We get emotional. We reach consensus. We laugh a lot too. And it is our ability to express freely what we think and feel that has led to the results we have had this year. I would never want to be without them. So cheers to them and to what 2018 will bring, and all the very best to all of you.
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