By: Jim Sniechowski
We enter this world as children and to stay alive and thriving we ingest, more like absorb the environment of our birth. Whatever we experience is all there is and we take it in without conditions. And that’s our first experience of authority, an authority that knows how to keep us alive because we cannot do that for ourselves.
Another aspect of those early years is that we spend a great deal of time looking up at those who are taller than we are. And we learn to follow; not necessarily by choice but by default. We unconsciously accept them as guides and leaders and we give our allegiance to them: again not by choice but by default. That’s a condition of being alive on this earth. We are new. We need to learn. If we don’t we likely don’t do well or may even die.
Our task is to conform, albeit with occasional resistance and perhaps rebellion. We comply and act in accordance with what is deemed appropriate. We do as we are told. We take the lessons we are given even to the point of imitation.
In conforming, complying, and imitating—all of the behaviors that merge us with our surroundings and are described as learning to develop ourselves—we go way beyond just taking all of that in. In fact we become it. We are an expression of all that’s come before.
And You Become a Manager
And then some of us, you for example, become employed and because of your abilities you are elevated into the role of being a manager and suddenly, and in almost all cases without preparation or training, you are the one people look up to. Not physically but psychically. You are the authority.
You may have learned management techniques from a book or a program. You may have been mentored by someone who has managed for a while and can “show you the ropes.” But those ropes are most often technical, external-facing. They are concepts about communication and org structures, company policy and, if you’re lucky, company politics. But the most important element of being a good or even great manager has been overlooked. That is helping you assume, own, and be comfortable with being the authority.
All of your life, and largely unconsciously, you’ve viewed authority as something outside of you. Why not? That’s what it’s been. Until you found yourself in a situation of management there was never any reason to question the locus of authority: that is, outside of you.
As a manager you are an authority managing people who are unconsciously still looking outward for the source of command, the source of direction and guidance, wisdom and power. And if you haven’t recognized your new state of being and haven’t acknowledged your new emotional status you may be still operating from your own unconscious orientation of looking outside yourself for that someone you can, if not must, follow.
If so you are now a member of a group of people all of which are unconsciously looking around for the leader. And that includes you. Is it any wonder why management can be so hard?
The number one mistake managers make—and since it is fundamentally unconscious it’s important to be compassionate with ourselves and each other—is to not become aware of, integrate, accept, and own your own authority.
What Does This Mean?
1 — Place the locus of authority within yourself and create yourself as a new identity. This does not mean you have to be alone. You can confer with other managerial colleagues and share your internal experiences. Express what you need so you can build and grow your own sense of authority.
2 — Think through what authority means to you. After all you are the one who has to live your version of it. What do you want your authority to look like, to feel like, and the emotional impact you want to have. Because no matter how you exercise your authority you will have an emotional impact. It’s important to monitor the outcomes of your behaviors, that is how people relate to you and follow you.
3 — Many managers have difficulty accepting the fact that people will follow them and they are uncomfortable with that idea. You can’t get around that fact. As an authority you are a leader. It’s important that you be at home with being a leader with followers. Once again it is a shift from looking up to being the one people are looking up to. This does not mean you can’t learn from those who are more advanced and more experienced. But when you operate from your own authority you will not be conforming or complying but learning, integrating, and developing your interpretation, your expression of doing what you’re learning about being a manager, a leader, an authority.
4 — Moving from looking up to being looked up to is a shift in identity, a transformation of who you are—not just as a professional but who you are in your own soul. As you make this change you will see and relate to the world in ways you have not yet imagined. Discoveries will happen, not because you are exploring new landscapes, which will also be true, but because, as Marcel Proust so elegantly said, “you will be seeing with new eyes.”