Who Do You Give Your Power to?

Recently, I happened to give a speech out in San Antonio. Two established professionals from the audience reached out to me a few days later asking for advice around a similar challenge. They both found themselves in the uncomfortable position of being managed by a new leader in the organization who seemed to have it out for them. They asked me, “Your book says, ‘Get away from the people who tear you down,’ but how can I do that when it’s my boss who doesn’t believe in me and is constantly critical?”

I asked them a few questions:

  • How long have you been working in this field?
  • Have you ever been performance managed before at your current organization or anywhere else?
  • How did you come to be in the position you are in now?

Both had been in their field for a number of years, had been promoted within the last two years and never had any complaints previously. I continued by asking them what work is like for them now. Both admitted that they are really struggling. They have noticed a change in their mood at work and even at home. They shared that their body is actually tensing when they see a message from their boss and find themselves reluctant to open and to respond to any messages or meeting requests. They aren’t volunteering to take on extra assignments or participating in the social activities like they used to.

By reflecting on this, it was clear that each of these folks had fallen into the trap of GIVING THEIR POWER AWAY. Once confident, they are now questioning—it is obvious that something isn’t going well. Am I in the right field? Am I fading? Have I moved past my sweet spot? 

My response:  Wait a minute! You are the same person who was chosen for this position. In all of your career, no one else has complained. In fact, they’ve promoted you.

There will always be folks who don’t agree with us. Feedback can be very productive and cause us to grow. Alternative views can make room for innovation. There are also can come times in our careers when an individual is universally critical of us. This is a dangerous place for us to remain, especially when that individual is our boss or team leader.

Receiving a consistently negative reception can cause us to internalize their disdain for us through what sociologist Charles Cooley called The Looking Glass Self. Others' response to us begins to shape our beliefs about ourselves. Our beliefs in turn begin to shape our thoughts and our actions.

After awhile, we second-guess ourselves and stop raising our hand at meetings. We withdraw from teamwork. We shrink. Sadly, we begin to resemble what that individual has been publicizing about us—ineffective, indecisive--our confidence has been shaken. If we allow this to continue, our reputation suffers and we become sidelined in our organizations.

If you find yourself shrinking at work because you’ve taken a critical boss’s comments to heart and think it’s possible that you’ve inadvertently given your power away, consider this:

How would you respond if I came into your shop (a soccer coach, university administrator) and criticized the way you approach your work or the comments you make in a meeting?  It shouldn’t matter. What do I know about your specialized skill set and years of experience in your industry? Similarly, if Julia Child came to my soccer practice and started asking me why I was going with a 4-4-2, I would be unfazed.

Your new supervisor probably has credentials and experience, but that doesn’t cancel your training, organizational wisdom, key relationships and industry experience.

When you internalize their worth as eclipsing your own and change your work behaviour in response, you have let their criticism sink in and shake your confidence.

If you have a supervisor who doesn’t promote and support you and instead undercuts you or leaves you out at every turn, you have choices: 

  1. Go along. Survive. Keep the peace. Find your joy outside of work. Maybe you have golden hand-cuffs of great benefits or salary you can’t replicate in your geography or industry. Whatever the reason, acknowledge it. Be honest with yourself about what you are doing and what your objectives are. Then, grow elsewhere in your life, and keep that voice of this negative person out of your inner self. Remind yourself that the negativity coming from your boss isn’t about you, actually. It has something to do with them. Keep your smile. Be social. Be early. Submit your same high-quality work. See a counsellor. Invest in your health and relationships. It’s possible you’ll outlast this supervisor at your organization and begin to thrive there again.
  2. Run towards a better fit. Spend some time updating your resume. Keep your eye on internal and external opportunities. Book a few networking coffee dates. Enroll in a bootcamp or course to spruce up your skills. Save some money and reduce your spending in case there is a transition ahead. Prepare and take your time in selecting an interesting and exciting new opportunity where you can thrive, don’t let anger tempt you to quit and run away from the situation leaving you high and dry with a crisis.

If someone intentionally or unintentionally is critical and limiting you, shame on them.  If you give your power away to them, shame on you. You and your contributions are valuable. Protect your self-confidence by choosing to survive or by running towards a better fit.



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