On Figures of Authority

Recently I happened to see two old figures from my past. Figures you could say I didn’t exactly ‘hit it off with’.

When we see old blasts from the past it jogs our memory, makes us think about things.

What our response was then.

And what it is now.

Yesterday I saw a man I used to work with, – sorry, work for. (This was middle management after all.) I hadn’t seen him for many, many years. He didn’t see me – but I saw him. I wondered what he did now, where he was going, what he was thinking about. My reaction to him was quite surprising. For a start I was quite calm and reasoned.

I used to HATE him. I absolutely couldn’t stand him. We worked together; he was my boss. I don’t know what he truly thought about me – he probably didn’t care. But this day, yesterday, I saw him in a completely different light. He looked sad, glum, dull, downhearted, a bit bored, rather boring if truth be told, not so senior, not so very high and mighty; very – average. I thought about how at the time I was actually a bit scared of him. He made himself sound very grand, and I know he made me feel very inadequate. He was not in the least bit approachable. He had a funny attitude. Aloof. Determined. Bullish. Bully-ing. Changeable. Mood-variant. Hard to read. Not very people-person-y. No, that’s an understatement! Many others I spoke to said the same. I thought about how pompous he had been. He had an aloof self-image. Liked to portray himself as being more important than I suspect he actually was, in the grander scheme of things.

Basically, this was a very unfortunate situation.

I started asking myself questions:

Who was in the wrong, in our mis-matched relationship? Him, or me?
Why did we not get along at a more enriched level, rather than merely able to exchange cold pleasantries about the weather?
Why was there no natural warmth there?

I know in a way that it’s pointless to go over past relationships, both working and personal, and there may be some truth in that; but on the other hand, we can always learn from ‘what we have learned when our fingers got burned’, if we can be bothered to ‘analyse the scene of the crime’. I wondered that perhaps I would have warmed to him slightly more had he simply been not so falsely try-too-hard AUTHORITARIAN.

Now I always go on about this, that although I don’t seek out ‘hundreds of new friends’ every day and go about looking to befriend the world, there are literally only about 5 people I have ever met whom I actually cannot stand. Just don’t hit it off. Cannot see eye to eye. He was one of them. I generally like people…am generally easy-going and can see what a person wants and where they are trying to go with their lives. In short, I don’t go out of my way to make enemies where at all possible – I suppose life is too short for this kind of attitude. People may annoy me a little, but hate? – that is far too strong and unnecessary most times.

But this man was one of them. He really wrecked my world and seemed to ‘get about my being’. Friction and pain were always in my life whenever I had to spend time with him. Grrr! Not good.

The other person I saw recently was in a local paper at the weekend. I used to work for him, too. He was my boss. I saw his picture and I instantly recoiled. It brought back bad memories. I hadn’t liked it. Hadn’t admired him, hadn’t wanted to go and be in his presence to do work for him. He was cold; distant; quiet; directive not two-way communicative; yet we were expected to do what he said. Again I asked myself,

What was it about being there, about him in particular, that I didn’t warm to? Why did he lack any sort of charisma or charm or lasting influence over me?

I realised it was his slightly superior, aloof, trying-too-hard-to-be-AUTHORITARIAN personal leadership style that had rubbed me up the wrong way. He was the sort of person that people would say was ‘going places’ (a repugnant phrase – as if ‘going places’ meant they were exempt from having thoroughly down-to-earth personal skills. Ambition and Niceness are NOT mutually exclusive.)

Now the fact is, I am the sort of person that doesn’t particularly love being told what to do. That much I have to admit. A weakness, perhaps. However, you do wonder if – all my personal flaws aside – there is something in this: Do leaders and people who are trying to be your ‘boss’ so they can be ‘going places’ have to be so serious and authoritarian? Are they secretly afraid of something? I quizzed myself about this and tried to pinpoint exactly what it was about their personal style that I so hadn’t warmed to. And for me, this was the answer:

I realised that it wasn’t so much ‘Authority’ that I didn’t take to. I am happy to listen to (and admire) persons that seem to me to be very knowledgeable and open/sharing with their knowledge. It was this somehow forced, ‘trying-too-hard’ positioning and posturing of oneself as ‘A FIGURE OF AUTHORITY’ in everyone else’s eyes (with no humility, no sense of humour, no backing-up) that I so resented. It was not natural. And I – like many others, I presume – could detect fakery and unnaturalness a mile off. No one likes someone straining too hard to be seen as the Leader. Leaders should be natural.

No one likes being told what to do. (OK, maybe that is just me!) – But what I like least of all is someone so afraid of being laughed at, so afraid of someone else questioning them, so afraid of someone else having an opinion that differs from their senior position or taking some of their supposed ‘power’ or ‘authority’ from them, that they have to act out this pretence that they are the Firm BOSS Of The Situation. THE END. I suspected that of the two individuals I worked for, both of them were being employed a little bit out of their depth; too many team members to be responsible for; too much onus, and not enough learning curve, teaching, people skills and teamwork first.

I think they are making a mistake in their leadership style. They are too severe. Bossing too much. Directing, not showing. Expecting ‘automatic’ respect; but not showing it – and showing it liberally. Taking themselves FAR TOO SERIOUSLY.

The result? I just laughed at them and didn’t like them (didn’t respect them either) behind their backs. In both instances the natural relationship of work/trust and openness wasn’t there in the management structure so I simply walked away. Got some power back.

It’s a bit like those people that position themselves as THE self-styled EXPERTS on a certain thing. ‘You must listen to us and do as we say because.’ Because what? Because you want us to? – Hmm. Not sure that really works.

Do we believe them? Or do we want to see first how they’ve worked their way up, through all the ranks, before we take for granted what they are ‘telling’ us to do?

Maybe we would all do well to remember a little humility and non-serious-faced-ness as we go about our daily work, no matter how serious or powerful or authority-wielding we think we are. Always remember that there are junior members of the team so to speak; impressionable, and searching for someone to look up to as an influence. We may be that person.

Just an interesting little thought about what makes a true Figure of Authority!


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