There are several ways to use words to give power and take power away. One of them is to exaggerate our own importance whilst completely dismissing other people’s abilities.
When intentions are good
See if you find anything familiar in my own story: During my earlier career working in different account and project lead roles there were several times when I felt that things weren’t moving forward fast enough, and so instead of waiting for the team to get on with it, I would step in and start doing some of their work myself. Some of the things I would say to my team were along the lines of:
“Right, I’m gonna take care of this one.” “Please don’t spend any more time with that, I’ll do that myself!” “Oh, don’t worry about that, I already did that.”
I was simply speeding things up by contributing to the efforts, and saving other people the bother and time to do something I might as well do myself. As result I accumulated a lot of extra work for myself but because all of it was important to the project at hand, I felt justified in my decision to take it on. Harmless, right?
Results tell all
Whilst I was observing my previously enthusiastic and highly motivated team get unhappy, forgetful and demotivated, I became increasingly convinced that my input was not only valuable but in fact irreplaceable. I can now definitely recall feelings of superiority and a rather arrogant attitude to the people whose work I was effectively doing.
I didn’t realise it at the time, but by taking over work from other perfectly capable people, I was giving out a message that I thought the team could not be trusted and that they were not very good at their jobs to begin with. This was echoing out of everything I said and did, loud and clear.
In the end I completetely burned out and had to take serious time off work. The project got finished but there was a general feeling of it not having been a very good one to work on, and as a result the client’s reputation inside the agency also suffered somewhat.
Respect is the word
By creating the illusion that I was irreplaceable I was destroying not only my own health and productivity, but the empowerment that my team needed in order to feel needed, competent and valuable.
It can be challenging to find the balance between fulfilling your own responsibilities to the fullest, and trusting that other people will do the same. Finding within me the belief that we are all adults capable of managing our own lives and time was key to moving on from this unhelpful behaviour pattern. It has not only changed the way I work and relate to other people, but has nudged me in the direction of the work I am now doing: encouraging and supporting people in stepping up to take full responsibility for their lives in order to be all they can be.
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“Words create worlds” is something I heard a lot during my coach training. This is Part 2 of a series of posts it inspired me to write. Also check out Words create worlds Part 1: Talking yourself down and Words create worlds Part 3: Minimising the problem.