It was the first term of my last year of high school.
There were the usual suspects on the school bus.
The cool kids, the nerds, the sports stars…
and me. The uncool. The only prefect.
In the first week Carmen, one of the cool kids, lit up a cigarette.
Illegal. Against school rules.
Let the games begin.
I think she thought I’d never take her on.
But I took my responsibility as prefect seriously.
So I walked up to her and said: “Put it out.”
Me: “I’m giving you three warnings. This is your first.”
Carmen: “Then what?”
Me: “You get a detention.”
I made that up.
I had no idea how to handle it.
I thought of baseball. Three strikes and you’re out.
She put it out.
I walked off, back to my seat and sat down.
I’d come across as solid, strong and sure. But my heart was pounding!
Two days later: “This is your second warning”.
A few more days later: “This is your third warning. You’re getting a detention.”
As terrifying as it was to step up and embrace the authority of my role, I’m so glad I did.
No one ever put a foot wrong when they saw me.
It made being a prefect really easy for the rest of the year!
Why am I telling you this?
It’s no different at work.
I’d like a dollar for every time I hear how much people get away with at work because nobody is prepared to step up, say anything or do anything about it.
Don’t let that be you.
When you start to step up you’ll realise how much more authority you have.
More than you thought!
Every role is negotiable. Authority isn’t set in stone.
Work is too complex to specify in advance who should be doing what, when, in what order and with whom to successfully do the job.
And if we’re honest with ourselves,
the person holding ourselves back is us.
Through unspoken and unacknowledged assumptions we de-authorise ourselves.
To help you own it, I want to share a framework developed by two of my favourite researchers: William Kahn and Kathy Kram. They’re both professors in organisational behaviour at Boston University.
They write about how we authorise and de-authorise others and ourselves, depending on our relationship with authority. We’re not even aware of it. Here’s the three-part framework:
(Where do you fit? Or do you shift depending on who you’re with and the situation you’re in?)
Dependent: authority is most important and we don’t question it. The boss is the boss and your reports are your reports.
Counter dependent: authority is of little importance. It’s suspect and undermines our personal expression.
Interdependent: authority is a collaborative process, with different hierarchical positions offering different and equally valid and complementary perspectives.
To me, when you take up a role you have to do some things you don’t like. It’s not always easy. The consequences may scare you.
But you have more authority than you realise.
It’s not a popularity contest.
When you step up and embrace the full authority of your role…
- You’ll be respected.
- You’ll be more confident in your leadership.
- You’ll be a force to be reckoned with!
Go for it! And I’d love to know how you go.