Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Stench of Authority

Earlier this week a co-worker came to me for help. There was something that he needed taken care of and, though he'd tried other avenues, he hadn't been able to accomplish what was necessary so he came to me. This happens fairly regularly.

There are a couple of things that people laughingly say when they call me about something. The first is, "I'll ask Michelle because she knows everything." The second is, "I'll ask Michelle because she'll make it happen."

Today the co-worker who had asked for my help came to me, appreciative because I'd done, with relative ease and speed, what others had apparently been unable to do. All it had taken was a phone call from me, some instructions for him, and he got what he needed handled. I told him that I'd been glad to help, and that it hadn't been difficult. His response was to laugh and say, "That's because everyone fears you. You have the stench of authority!" I joked with him about being stenchy, but his comment gnawed at me for the rest of the day.

There was a time when I was dubbed "Supreme Commander" by a manager in my department. It was done tongue-in-cheek because, really, I'm no one's commander. The reality is that I've worked hard to become the sort of person who refuses to be intimidated. Nobody likes to feel intimidated, and I just learned to suck it up and stick to my guns when necessary. I refuse to be impressed by titles or position, or any of the things that turn usually intelligent people into squealing teenage girls. It's not that the emotions aren't there, because I'm wired as a highly emotional person. It's a matter of choosing the sort of person I want to be, which is strong and brave, and determining to look at others as mere mortals who are no better and no worse than I am.

Who I have chosen to be looks quite different from the outside than it does from the inside.

The truth is, I don't want to be feared. I want to be loved. Being needed for what I can accomplish is nice, but I'd rather be wanted for who I truly am on the inside.

Cultivating a character that is strong and brave has been a double-edged sword.

Looking at it from one perspective, I'm competent and efficient and will get the job done. It's earned me the trust of my boss. It's placed me in a position of leadership and authority. Whether I do or do not see it as my authority, which I don't, it's a mantle I don every day. Turn that over and, truth be told, it's a mantle I never consciously sought. It's a mantle that I don't really want, but it goes along with the job I do. It helps me help others.

I wonder how true this is of others, who are in far greater leadership roles than I. I wonder if, perhaps, some of the weaknesses I see in those in leadership roles is due to the fact that they've taken the mantle of leadership as their own instead of wearing it on behalf of others.

I've been in the presence of many, many individuals who are leaders and people of authority. There are things that I've seen that break my heart - attitudes of entitlement and subtle arrogance. Attitudes that have been fed by those around them, whose voices ring with admiration and even awe. "You are our leader!! We follow you!! Tell us what to do, how to live, who to be!!"

These leaders are just people, like you and me, whose hearts hunger to be loved and wanted for who they really are.

It's a hard, unkind thing to put another person on a pedestal. They might fall off it and get broken into many small pieces. Everybody suffers when that happens

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