October 14, 2017
Some managers are so fearful that they see every competent person around them as a threat. Even the young and inexperienced.
The key to understanding life at work is to understand the relationship between power, fear and trust. Trust is a strong fuel source for any organization, but it is hard for some leaders to build and hard to maintain trust. It is easier and faster to lead a team through fear than to build trust into a workplace.
To build trust, you have to know yourself and you have to tell the truth about things that many leaders don’t like to talk about. You have to talk about the air quality and the feelings of the people around you — as well as your own feelings. You have to be able to talk about your fears, and that is something that too many leaders cannot or will not do.
Fear is another power source that we have to understand. Many organizations run almost completely on fear. Their employees are motivated mostly by the understanding that if they don’t do what they’re expected to do, they’ll get fired.
Everybody knows their place in the organizational chart, and they know that one of their principal responsibilities is to keep their boss from getting upset with them. Staying on your manager’s good side is a very different mission that breaking down whatever barriers stand between your company and its goals!
Pleasing the boss is such a monumental responsibility that it can dwarf a person’s ability to do their “real” job — the role they were hired to fulfill. This is a problem in large and small organizations. Managers who don’t feel powerful in themselves use the power of their position to force people to bend to their will.
Management jobs come with a built-in level of power and control. This is one reason so many unequipped-for-leadership people end up in management positions. They seek those positions for the power of the job title.
The petty bureaucratic power that a manager wields by virtue of his or her job title seems to fill the hole in the fearful manager’s stomach. It seems to make them whole, but it doesn’t last. When you see managers throwing their weight around and treating employees badly, it’s because they don’t feel good about themselves.
Some managers are so fearful that they see every competent person around them as a threat. A fearful manager could see you as a threat! Even very young and inexperienced working people have run into the fearful-manager problem. They can see that their boss wants them to succeed — but only so much!
If you succeed too well, you could threaten the manager’s power or his or her ability to control you. A fearful manager wouldn’t like that.
Your boss can get spooked easily. You’ll know that your manager is on edge is when you see their efforts to block your forward motion, their words and actions intended to make you feel bad about yourself or their willingness to criticize you in front of other people.
These are all techniques fearful managers use to keep your flame from growing. If your flame kept growing and you started to feel really powerful, you might do or say something that would challenge your boss — and for a fearful manager, that would be a disaster!
Real power is not in a job title. It’s in a person, or on a team. Fake power is the kind that other people bestow on you. Real power is something you grow in yourself, step by step, as you find your backbone and use your voice.
Here are five signs your boss is freaked out by your competence and/or confidence.
1. When you have a great idea at work, your boss either stomps on the idea or steals it and calls it his or her own idea.
2. Your boss tries to restrict your access to higher-level leaders and people in other departments. Your boss tells you to funnel all communications through him or her, rather than directly.
3. Your boss used to compliment and acknowledge your good work, but now he or she seems to find fault with everything you do. Other people in your workplace praise you — but your boss never does!
4. You and your manager used to strategize and make plans together. Now you are shut out and can hardly get access to your boss.
5. Your manager takes away your highest-impact and highest-visibility projects and gives them to other people.
Don’t feel bad if you recognize yourself in this list — many people have walked the same path! Keep your cool. Don’t twist yourself into pretzel shapes trying to assuage your boss’s fears, because it won’t work.
At the same time, don’t engage with him or her and don’t get into battles. Your best path undoubtedly lies elsewhere. While you’re working at your current job, keep in mind that you will always run into barking dogs on your path. You don’t have to stop and bark back at all of them!