One night over dinner we had an interesting discussion about power dynamics. My youngest, who is working as a barista, was lamenting the many ways he has seen customers treat baristas and other service providers over the years. He also expressed some feelings about how managers or owners of the small shops where he has worked either create a environment of safety or not, based on their capacity to lead.
Our daughter, who is a bit further up the food chain in her job, shared her perspective as it related to being a manager. Oftentimes a manager has to implement a decision that they vehemently disagreed with behind closed doors with others in higher authority. A decent manager, in her opinion, throws herself in front of the slings and arrows of the outrageous misfortune of having to present an unpopular idea to a team. She believes you protect your superiors, which means that sometimes team members blame their supervisor for decisions the supervisor doesn’t agree with. She says she learned this from her best bosses over the years. Ahhhh, perspective.
Whether we are the boss or the employee, we all have an instinct about power dynamics. It’s human nature. The less power we perceive we have, the more likely we are to distrust authority. Our son, who perceives he has no power, wants the people with power to learn how to do better. Our daughter, with a teeny tiny bit more authority, ALSO feels sympathy for the authority figures who have tough calls to make.
This led to a discussion about what that looks like. I pushed my son, asking what he would do differently if he were the owner or boss. To which he said, “You know, the thing that concerns me is that I am worried I might turn into my worst boss rather than live up to the quality of my best ones. It just seems to me that power can be very corrosive; sometimes we become the person we once judged.”
Wow. Yes. As we grow and have more responsibility, maybe even a bit more authority, we might want to consider how we have automatically adopted some of the practices we hated when we had no power. Or, we can use our authority to be the boss we wanted, not necessarily the boss we were given over the years. This can be applied to parenting, in a marriage, or of course, at work.
Who are you imitating? How can you live out the way you want to be treated rather than repeat the mistakes that you criticize in others?