The Privilege Of Power, Or, Saturday Morning at 9:39am

Well good morning everyone.

Had an offsite work happy hour last night. As I got ready to exit our offices, someone asked one of the guys on my team, “Are you going?” “Oh,” he said, in a good-humored and deliberately over-hearable tone, “I’m just waiting for my boss to leave.”

I said at the same decibel level, “Your boss is just getting ready. Go on, go!’

And was suddenly filled with a swell of goodwill. It’s such a privilege to manage people.

But that’s not immediately apparent. It can take a while to develop an understanding of the nature of bosshood. When you’re first made a manager, it’s not unusual to worry about whether people will accept your authority. It’s not unusual to worry whether they will like you. It’s not unusual to miss the privilege part.

Then, over the years, you see that yes, people will do as you tell them to do. You see you have the right to admonish or even send to the exit those who will not. Over the years you also come to understand that it doesn’t really matter if your people like you. You understand that you’ve got a larger purpose than the personal, and that if you can set that purpose correctly, and align your team in the right direction, the results create their own momentum.

At that point you can step back, and use your extra capacity, that which is no longer being absorbed by the sheer getting-done-of-tasks, to help your people. To create a team space. To recognize, to coach. Not that come the rough times you won’t have to revert to barking out orders, just that you know what to do whenever there’s room for better.

Not too surprisingly,  for some of us managing may roughly resemble motherhood.

Consider. As a mother you generally reach that moment where you know what you’re doing. Where you’re clear you don’t have to be your kids’ friend, but you might make that choice. You trust you can get those little ones to eat plants one way or another, you can cantilever them into bed before 9pm – wearing clean pajamas mind you – and that you know your way to the emergency room. Broken bones mend.

Then you set your sights higher. And you begin to build. Maybe you choose toys that foster imagination rather than occupy it, maybe spend time outdoors in the sun and wind, always make sure to listen when asked for a pretend picnic.

I used to tell my kids, “Thanks for choosing us to be your parents. We’re lucky to have you.”

Any position of power means privilege, because generous power engages people’s trust. And trust, as you know, is sacred.

Have a wonderful weekend.

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  • Would you be my boss? You sound like a great boss. Get things done at the same time be empathetic, and look great! What more could a person ask for?

    7:39 am
    Lisa said...

    I have my shortcomings, needless to say…

  • Managing a household and kids is very daunting. I know. I’ve been both kinds of management. Hopefully, I was successful at both.

  • “Always make sure to listen when asked for a pretend picnic.”

    Holding space for the power of pretend…now there’s a sacred trust indeed.

    *Holding* and *trust* make me think of holdings and trusts (after all, we roll up our sleeves and dig into WASPdom with Lisa here on Privilege). Imagination, creativity, playful vision–whatever material assets one might pass down to future generations, these intangibles are the assets that empower a truly valuable trust fund. And after all, you can’t spell “fund” without “fun” :)

  • I miss you and your words of wisdom. Have a great weekend.

    7:41 am
    Lisa said...

    Thanks! Hope all goes well for you!

  • Oh my! Your thoughts on “being the boss” using experiences gleaned from motherhood make total sense but it must really be much more challenging and daunting when dealing with grown adults!

    Hope you have a wonderful and restorative weekend.

    1:34 pm
    Marcela said...

    I find toddlers more daunting ;)

    7:44 am
    Lisa said...


  • You sound like a great manager. My hubby is too. I’ve always really admired that quality/skill. He’s not a parent but I’m sure he would be a great one. As I read what you’ve written, I think about what an issue it is when a manager does not respect the privilege and abuses the power. We’ve also had experience with that. The parenting analogy follows there too, I guess. Good insights you’ve given here.

  • Also, off-topic but: when I first glanced at the title, I read it as The Princess of Power. Remember She-ra, sibling of He-man? By the power of Grayskull, I love the 80s. :)

    7:43 am
    Lisa said...

    Ha! I remember the Power Rangers from the 80s and early 90s, since I was having children.

  • “Any position of power means privilege, because generous power engages people’s trust. And trust, as you know, is sacred.”

    I’ve been pondering this all day, really love it, and I’m going to post this somewhere where I see it often.
    Please write more from your life’s business experiences!

  • This is an excellent post. It’s no surprise to me that all of my favorite managers are great with kids. A lot of people call tech management “herding cats”, but it’s really more like running a preschool. :)

    9:04 pm
    Aleatha said...

    Hrm. In retrospect, that came out more snarky than I meant it. To clarify: You’ve got a lot of strong willed folks, at different stages of skill (and, sadly, sometimes socialization), and somehow you need to cajole, command, and otherwise convince them to all sit down and work towards a common goal. But since they’re all so different, the best managers know who needs the promise of a gold star, and who needs a firm voice to get them rolling.

  • Interesting post. I am not sure how I would be as a boss now although I’m good with children, both as authority and friend.

    I think the observation that they don’t have to like you is of course right, but being offered benevolent respect makes things easier. I think you should not need them to like you in order to do a good job.

    I had a rather nightmarish experience in my early thirties as a senior editor in the publishing business. I got a segment worth 3. 000 000 Deutsche Mark in sales and an assistant who felt my predecessor was vastly superior. I was insecure, she used that against me. It was like having teeth pulled on a daily basis and my superiors only partially supported me since I’d gotten in the middle of an internal power struggle.

    I now coach and lead different groups and working with people who come of their own free will is vastly different and much easier. But I have noticed that after 13 years of doing this my competence is not questioned and people accept my temporary leadership. This came with practice although the process in itself is not quite clear to me.

    My psychology prof always maintained that to keep your sanity as a therapist you have to decide: are you the form or the medium, the mold or that which is molded (he actually used the picture of a wall and the car crashing against it). Sounds brutal but there is something to be said for it, I feel.

    7:45 am
    Lisa said...

    When your superiors don’t support you, everything becomes infinitely more difficult. I’ve faced that in other jobs, and suffered mightily.

  • Lisa just hearing you talk about the privilege associated with being a boss makes me want to work for you. Bosses who have learned those lessons and who strive to create great environments when possible are hard to come by, but reading this gives me a little hope that there will be more of them in my future.

  • A man I worked with liked to say “Managers light a fire under people; leaders light a fire within them.”

  • This confirms what I already knew, you are an outstanding manager, and excellent manager of people. (Among other things, you clearly get the difference between the two.) I do miss the mentoring and growing people part of the job, bu most assuredly *do not* miss the HR aspect of things for those struggling in the workplace. (Read: bad apples making it miserable for everyone else.)

    Sending you a smile!

  • I’d really love another chance to give this a go. At the mo, I’m managing volunteers and I think it’s so much harder because we have to pussy-foot so much. It’s all carrot and no stick!

    I terms of the ‘they don’t have to like you’ thing, that’s true, but as an employee, I really want to know that my boss likes me (even if I don’t like them). I need to feel secure. With one of my current bosses, I get the feeling that he’d be pretty happy if I left…