Don’t Ask Me!

Written by Laurie Hillis

Hi, I’m Laurie Hillis, I love what I do: the learning, the process, and above all, seeing how my clients grow as leaders.

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February 19, 2024

Sidestepping: A misuse of power?

We hear a lot about how people abuse power; taking advantage of it to get others to do what they want. In fact, it’s what I wrote about in my last blog.

In reading more from author Julie Diamond and her work on the topic of Power in Leadership, I was struck by how people misuse power in other ways. Of particular interest is how we sometimes sidestep our power.

We avoid making decisions, having difficult conversations, taking an unpopular stand, not holding people accountable, and voicing our opinions. As a person in positional authority (leader, manager, boss, parent), what does all of this create? Confusion! Ironically, sidestepping is an effort to not misuse power, but it turns out to be exactly that.

While leaning heavily to collaboration, flexibility, and autonomy can be a powerful leadership practice, sometimes your team needs you to assert yourself.

Why do we do this?

When we feel unqualified to have the power others are looking to us for, or when we base our sense of competence on our topic-specific expertise, rather than on our positional power, it’s easy to feel that we should avoid making decisions, for fear of making a wrong one. Of course, some decisions depend on a depth of knowledge, but many call for transferable knowledge and experience, like that of a leader.

Now, none of us can be highly skilled at everything; there are areas of our lives where we feel legitimately powerful and others where we feel completely lost. Imagine a high powered CEO who makes million dollar decisions every day who also has a teenager who is flunking out of school or getting into trouble. For 8-10 hours a day, he/she feels highly competent and confident, and then for the remainder of time, they feel like a failure, unable to contribute to the issue.

We all experience a degree of this in our lives. What’s so damned frustrating is that a feeling of “low rank” in one area is an emotional, defining experience that leaks into the other areas of our lives, clouding everything we do.

What about you?

  • Where do you find yourself in a “low rank” scenario?
  • Do you sidestep your power because you don’t feel qualified to weigh in?
  • Pushing aside situations where you really shouldn’t enforce any authority (like diagnosing a problem with a car engine when you’ve never driven or studied vehicle mechanics), are there some roles that you play where you could step up to the plate more?
  • Are there people looking to you for your opinion but you’ve been avoiding giving it?

Start somewhere small to practice getting comfortable voicing your perspective or making decisions in scenarios in which you don’t have deep expertise. Like many things, only repeated practice will develop new skills. Choose a scenario where, if you make a wrong decision or provide “bad” advice, it isn’t going to be catastrophic.

Let’s connect:

If you want to know more about Megatrain and how we can work together, drop me a line:

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