Posts Tagged 'self respect'

When the Pack Needs an Alpha Dog

There is a right use of power. Some of us are squeamish about exercising power. Perhaps we confuse power with control. It isn’t the same. There are times when it is necessary to exercise power or lose control. We rightly exercise power over those for whom we are responsible. It might be to protect a child or an invalid or to protect our rights from those who don’t respect them.

I once worked in a group which had a leader who was an information expert but not really a manager. This happens quite a bit when a great technical expert becomes a group leader but has never learned how to manage. It happens a lot in IT, healthcare, and sales teams. Technical experts are expected to know things and know how to do things. Managers need to know how to exercise power appropriately and relate to people.

This person left most decisions to the group of a dozen employees. I believe that group management can work. I must admit, however, that I have never personally seen it happen (or even heard of it.) If the pack has even one member who operates in a dog-eat-dog reality, it needs an alpha dog to see to the group’s welfare. The alpha dog can have a style that is participatory or he can be a hard core enforcer, but to be an alpha dog, he must influence group behavior. That requires power, not expertise.

When a technical expert is rewarded for expertise with a promotion to management, her experience is all…well…technical. If this person develops leadership skills as well, then she can exert power. If the technical expert is not a leader, he will not perceive the exercise of power in the work group, so he may not see that there is an enormous difference between participatory management and no management at all. The manager who won’t manage is usually a good employee who wouldn’t dream of dropping the ball in any of his technical tasks, but who fails to even see the ball in his managerial role.

Political power governs the group with no leader. The workplace becomes a series of Survivor episodes and the games tie up energy that could be used productively. If there is no management at all, the group will either get nothing done, or accomplishment will be on the backs of one or two of the group members. Staff may like but will not respect the manager who doesn’t manage. Eventually they will feel resentment.

Employees suffer a lot of unnecessary stress from not knowing how a decision will go and from competing for time and assignments which should be doled out equitably. They feel open to the manager’s judgment but do not feel protected or supported in any real way.

When this team leader says, “Here’s what needs to be done. You all figure out how to do it.” He walks away having no idea that all hell just broke loose behind him. Manipulation takes the place of management, and all sorts of dysfunctional behavior occurs.

The tough nut takes the plum assignment; the narcissist takes a prolonged break; and the dutiful pick up the pieces while trying to avoid being bossed around by those who did none of the real work.

The same scenario plays out in a family in which the parent will not parent and allows minor children to make decisions. The appropriate use of power can steer the family or workgroup into constructive and cooperative behavior. This doesn’t mean being a drill sergeant or throwing your weight around.

Unfortunately, use of power cannot be learned from a textbook or even an MBA program. It must be learned by doing and practicing. When I coach new managers, I teach them to imagine that power is a visible force so they can direct it appropriately.

They soon learn that their imaginings are quite real. Power may be invisible but it is tangible to most of us.

Why assertiveness training does not work very well

Assertiveness training usually focuses on ways of expressing yourself through language; speaking in ways that are assertive without being aggressive. It may give you helpful strategies for certain situations, but it will not make you an assertive person.

Assertiveness training involves learning a communication pattern that expresses your feelings without disrespecting the other person. So, when you want to say something like, “Jack, you idiot! You left the headlights on and my battery is dead. Drive me to work so I won’t be late!” Instead you would say, “Jack. When you leave the headlights on in my car, it drains the battery and leaves me with no way to get to work on time. I’d like you to give me a ride to work.”

This is a far superior way to verbally communicate to Jack. He will be more likely to give you a ride to work than to become angry at you for calling him an idiot. However, using language in this way will not, in itself, make you assertive.

On the other hand, if you are an assertive (not aggressive) person; that is you are in an assertive and powerful state of being, you will automatically use forms of language that are respectful rather than hurling undue blame at others. And, you won’t have to think about it, read about it, or practice it.

If you are not really in an assertive and powerful state, you will fool no one with your assertive language. If you are not truly assertive, you will have a tendency to set limits and yet not follow through on them. Then when others take advantage of this, you may get angry and aggressive or be passive aggressive.

Anger is not assertiveness. The powerful may get angry, but anger will not make you powerful. If a pedestrian angrily stomps his foot and yells at you for exceeding the limit as you fly past him…who cares? He has no power. But a policeman has been given power by your locality. He doesn’t have to get angry because you broke the law. He or she simply climbs in the cruiser and pulls you over to receive a citation and a bill for the appropriate fine to be paid.

Power comes from within. The bad news is you cannot convince anyone by pretending or using a certain means of speaking. The good news is that we all have power we can call forth if we learn how. And practicing a powerful state will, eventually call it forth. This power is more physical than intellectual and cultivating it will make it easy to assert yourself.
See my page with tips for encouraging respect for some easy ways to cultivate your personal power in ways that are respectful of others and encourage others to be respectful as well.


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