Nullification of Positional Power – Undermining authority

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The merger was in full bloom. HR and local sales leadership from both companies met to resolve some issues and establish a working relationship. The highest ranking person in the group was a Director, who was African American. The discussion was very intense and the room responded as if the Director did not have a rank several positions above their own. At the end of the session the HR person turned to the Director and stated, “People at our company would have never reacted to you as they did. They would be more respectful of your position.”

Disregarding and nullifying positional power is more common than we think. It is a risky proposition, potentially detrimental to all parties involved. Additionally, it is difficult to prove in many instances. In most instances, the evidence is circumstantial, relying essentially on body language cues and hurt feelings. Unless you can quantify it with actions on the part of the perpetrator, the target appears insecure or overly sensitive.

New leaders have stated how they do not receive the prestige, recognition and respect they deserve from their peers and subordinates. Shockingly, people lower in the organization challenge them when they would not challenge others with the same level of authority.

The nullification of positional power is a universal problem, but women and minorities have expressed it many times in conversations. They feel as if their jobs are not perceived the same as others in their position. When nullification is evident, and in its worst cases, the team does not function, as well as it should, which ultimately could reflect negatively on the manager. Team members may also suffer the consequences of reduced effectiveness and its impact on financial rewards. Engagement levels may go down and productivity can be adversely affected if this practice is not addressed.

Sometimes, nullification of positional power shows itself in overly aggressive challenges to your authority, undermining your directives and refusing to seek your guidance or valuing your opinion. You may be tempted to retaliate or verbally castigate them in public. But remember, you are still the leader and must be above the fray, as it relates to executing the duties and responsibilities of your position. You cannot let your ego impair your judgment. Public admonishments or executions, may feel good, but can damage the defectiveness of the team.

It is interesting how some people walk around with a look on their face that says,” I don’t care what job you have. I am still better than you and will not accept you in your role in this organization.” They are defiant and have a difficult time suppressing the conditioning they received from their experiences, environment, biases, preferences and stereotypes.

It is a fact that most of the time nullification of positional power is not blatantly obvious. It is demonstrated through negative body language, micro-inequities and comments made in private. Micro-inequities are subtle actions, often unconscious offenses, injustices and inconveniences that make the recipient feel inadequate, insufficient, irrelevant, unimportant, insignificant, unnecessary and undervalued. They may be verbal or non verbal and reflect overt and covert actions. The persistent activity may cause people to second guess their competence and lose confidence in their abilities.

It may seem easier to address this behavior if the individual reports to the manager. But the behavior is not usually out in the open. The actions may be underground and committed in secret. Significant damage may be done to your effectiveness as a leader, before you discover this breach in your positional power.

Within many organizations it is acceptable to challenge ideas for they pride themselves on candor. That is their culture and it is understandable. Challenge is in their DNA, as a part of their mindset which is evident in their practices. Candor is woven into the fabric of their culture and no one takes it personally when challenged by someone lower in the organization. Status and titles are irrelevant when they are solving problems or developing ideas in brainstorming sessions. However, respect of all levels is expected.

Nullification of positional power is often used against the new manager. Some people deliberately set out to embarrass the new manager. They feel the person does not deserve the job for a variety of reasons and find it distasteful that they have to report to them. They may try everything in their power to cause them to fail by not cooperating and performing at a lower level beneath their capabilities.

Nullification or disregard for positional power has always been an enigma to me, particularly with people, who were actually afraid of leadership. However, they become emboldened and antagonistic when certain people were promoted into a job. Whereas, they were cautious with their words around most leaders, because they were concerned about their careers, these same individuals took a huge risk and acted out of character, because either they did not care or felt there would not be any repercussions.

A District Manager was promoted to his new assignment. He lacked the experience of some of the senior members on the team. One of the members thought they should have received the promotion. He did everything in his power to make the job difficult for the new manager. Years later, he confided in me that he did this out of spite. He did not respect the person in the position and worked within his power to make it difficult for his new boss. He told me, as if to soothe his conscience during a moment of remorse.

Occasionally, resistance to the new manager is in the subconscious realm. There is unconscious bias where people do not recognize what they are doing. When they are reprimanded for insubordination or written up for behavior unbecoming of a team member, they are surprised. Their argument is that they were just stating their ideas and the manager became offended and took it personally. However, it is often conscious, malicious, intentional and secretive.

A Regional Manager was conducting a session with one of his Districts. There was dissention in the group. He brought them in for an opportunity to clear the air and for the District Manager to essentially apologize for his actions, reset expectations for the manager and each member of the team. The meeting ended and several members left in the same car to return to their territories. Before they departed the sound of the Regional Manager’s voice was heard in the back seat. The driver who was a veteran representative went to the backseat and shut off the tape recorder. Apparently, he had secretly and illegally taped the entire meeting. The other representatives were surprised by his actions. His actions gave a signal to the other members that it was OK to act in a manner that nullified the positional power of the Regional Manager.

What does a manager do when they are aware of members in her organization trying to nullify their positional power? What does she do when she discovers the corrosive impact of subversive comments and actions?

If the action occurs in a meeting, they could table the discussion until later with words such as, “John we can take this conversation off line and I’m we can resolve the issue and bring it back to the group.” It may be documented as a performance issue and expectations and consequences stated if the behavior continues. Sometimes, companies may reassign promising performers and justify it by saying there was a personality clash with the new manager. This could send a dangerous message, set a dangerous precedent and inadvertently sanctioned inappropriate behavior.

One of my favorite personal stories involved an encounter I had when I attended a manager’s meeting. I was from the Home Office, which usually has a mystique associated with it. After all I was from the epicenter of power for the organization. I was at least two levels above most of the people in the room. A manager two level below me misunderstood my position on a certain point. He raised his hand and said, “I strongly disagree with what you just said.” The room became very quiet. I responded, “Allow me to restate my case, because if you heard me right, I’m sure you would not “strongly” disagree with my position.” I repeated my statement almost word for word and he acknowledged that he was in agreement.

Leaders should not get provoked into unprofessional behavior. The matter can be addressed by going to supportive leadership within your company. Your job as a leader is to be a leader for all, even though everyone may not want you in the job. Press on. Show your value and contribute substantial results, resources, reputation and financial performance. If they don’t, the matter must be discussed with their supervisor, with specific examples of the breach of protocol.

Your performance and your network of supporters will change the perception of some of these detractors. You will never be liked by everyone, but your leadership and excellent performance will add value to the company. Inappropriate behavior and disrespect should be handled appropriately and should not be tolerated.

Lastly, leaders can counteract nullification of personal power by elevating their social power or social capital. Your personality, work ethic and integrity are revealed to the organization through personal and professional interactions. People get to know you and realize what an asset you are to the company. They realize that you are committed to their personal growth and development. They may become advocates and speak out against those who are stabbing you in the back. Team members see that you belong in the job and are the right leader to help them achieve their personal and professional objectives.

Copyright © 20015 Orlando Ceaser

Motherhood and Leadership

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You and I are probably very similar. My early exposure to leadership principles came from my Mother. I would imagine that I am not alone. Usually we tend to think of leadership as a masculine trait, but the seeds of leadership in many homes were actually planted by the Mother.

Mother initiated our leadership education. She was the driving force behind our early physical, mental, educational and spiritual development. Mother planted the seeds of leadership by modeling behavior, holding us accountable, introducing us to new experiences, coaching and encouraging us, cultivating gifts and pushing us out of the nest to participate and get involved in our surroundings.

Mother allowed us to explore different activities to find our talents. We were creative around her and she celebrated our ingenuity. Many of us have memories of our Mom taking us to the park, shopping and various school and church programs. She was eager to compliment us when we did something well and quick to discipline us when we were out of line. She was so proud of us. By supporting our interests she identified our gifts and bolstered our confidence.

We were her team. The climate in her leadership environment allowed us to blossom as we outwardly and subliminally listened to the valuable messages. We were constantly infiltrated by leadership qualities that emerged as she navigated the parenting process.

  1. Setting the vision for a possible future
  2. Establishing values and beliefs
  3. Providing direction, opportunities and resources
  4. Encouragement and reinforcement
  5. Discipline, feedback and developing healthy habits

Setting the vision for the future

We were told we could be anything we wanted to be. We were challenged to be and do our best. If we were going to be a janitor, we were told to be the best janitor. Education was strongly touted as the key to our future, as something no one could take from us. When I finished 8th grade, Mother asked, “What is next?” High school was the correct response. After high school, she asked, “What is next? I responded college, as we had discussed so many times since 8th grade. It was drilled into me at an early age that I was someone special and she saw me reaching my God given potential.

Establishing values and beliefs

The rules and regulations of life, the values and beliefs to guide our behavior and understanding of the world, were initially from our Mother. The stories she read, the lessons we learned in her presence and the experiences we received during playtime. She was the moral and religious center of the home. She showed what was important by how she spent her time and through the chores she distributed and the discipline she delivered. She practiced what she preached and walked the talk. My Mother was a continuous learner and went back to school and became a Registered Nurse. Additionally she gained a BS degree after all of the children finished school. She was always active in community, school and church affairs.

Providing direction, opportunities and resources

We were instructed in the ways of approved and acceptable behavior. We were warned about actions that would not be tolerated. We were not going to embarrass and shame her or the family. My Mother was a stickler on manners and polite behavior. We had standards of good conduct which was anchored in the Golden Rule.

Mother gave us opportunities to express our opinions and grow our talents. I had a number of jobs through the years. I worked as a shoe shine boy, a paper boy, shoe salesman and shoveled snow to make extra money. I learned the value of hard work and how to handle money. I also benefitted from collecting money from her Avon customers. I could always count on her doing anything to see that I had what I needed. She paid for my art supplies, new clothes to march in a parade and prepared me for many other school projects.

Encouragement and reinforcement

When we fell she picked us up and made us feel better. She always knew what to say when we were hurting. She was our biggest fan. She had confidence in us. My Mother had many children and she treated us all differently and there were no favorites among the children. If she was leaning toward one of the others, she was open to talk about it. My Mother told me I was the Chosen One. My response was chosen by whom to do what? It was her way of letting me know there was a purpose for my life and I had to find out what it was. When others seemed to abandon us, Mother was always in our corner offering words of support, guidance and forgiveness.

Discipline, feedback and developing healthy habits

Mother was known for providing simulations to prepare us for life in the real world, although we did not call them simulations. She gave us positive and reasonably realistic feedback when we did well. She checked our homework to make sure it was done and done correctly. She did not let us off the hook. She held us accountable for our actions and helped lay down the law and maintain the order.

When we broke the rules, the punishment usually fit the offense. She wanted us to get in the habit of doing our best and acting properly. There was a saying and a television program that said, “Father knows best.” If that was true Mother knew that and all the rest.

My Mother challenged me to learn and present a very long drama poem when I was ten years old. The Creation by James Weldon Johnson was in her English literature text book when she was in night school. She worked with me and checked with me until I mastered the piece. I began performing it in church services all over the city for many years. She brought out my gift of public speaking and made me comfortable in front of crowds.

I realize that some may have a different opinion of their Mother’s role in sowing and demonstrating leadership principles into their lives. Some may have received examples of how a leader should not perform. Nevertheless, we know the value of strong leadership in altering the course of lives and organizations.

When we search our memories and review the books, theories, seminars and the performance of actual leaders, let us not forget where many were first exposed to lessons on leadership. We should recognize and celebrate the awesome contributions of Mothers. They should be honored for the role they play in developing leaders of today and leaders of tomorrow. During the time we spent on our Mother’s knee, in her lap or at her feet, we were overtly or covertly immersed in the relationship between Motherhood and leadership.

Copyright © 2010 Orlando Ceaser

4 Ways to Resist Unwanted Temptation

 The bigger they are the harder they fall.  We heard this phrase when we were children. It was usually uttered by someone facing a larger adversary. It was a phrase to give him confidence. David probably gave a similar battle cry before he confronted Goliath. This comment relates to many areas of our experience; business, politics or in our community work. Not only can we say the harder they fall, but also the more miserable they are when they hit the ground.

Business leaders, politicians, associates and celebrities can be arrogant and obnoxious. They can be self-centered and treat others in a ruthless and dispassionate manner. They may use power as a weapon and hide behind the rules and regulations to justify their behavior. A District Manager from a competitor bragged about firing someone 18 months before their retirement after many years of service. He had a reputation for being heartless and plain old mean.  He never looked for mutual benefits in resolving employee problems. He wore his tough demeanor as a badge of honor. People felt he could have worked out something for the man and his family, but he did not.

Eventually, the District Manager received a new and younger Regional Manager. The new guy was not impressed with his draconian methods and blind loyalty. The Regional Manager felt his current performance was not up to par. He could care less about the historically loyal achievements. He was asked to improve his performance, but was subsequently demoted. The new manager however, gave him an opportunity to save face, which was something he never did for others. The Regional Manager let him a sales territory anywhere in the country.  I saw the demoted District Manager on his last week prior to moving to Florida. He told me, “I did everything I could for this company and look what they did to me. Young man, be careful and don’t ever give your all to a company, because it may come back to bite you.” I thanked him for his advice, but he was a pitiful sight to behold.

 Some authority figures flagrantly disregard ethics and operate, as if they are above the law and will never get caught. When their indiscretion is discovered however, they are on television weeping and asking for forgiveness from their family and their constituents. They are the epitome of sadness; tears are everywhere and the sobbing touches your emotions. The irony is that many of these politicians are on record castigating their colleagues who were caught in similar offenses. Their ruthless nature would suggest they would replace the signs in stores they say “Shoplifters will be prosecuted” to read “Shoplifters will be persecuted.”

Role models who abuse power the most; the haughty, cocky and arrogant ones are the most pitiful on the way down. They did not hear when they were told to be nice to people on the way up, because you will meet the same people on the way down. They did not realize until it was too late that it is better to be humble than to be humbled.

The fallen ones are quick to ask for forgiveness, patience and understanding. They ask for leniency which they frequently denied to others. They somehow feel their situation is different and they should get clemency when others should not, which is linked to their arrogance.

Disgraced individuals elicit mixed emotions from their public. Their constituents may be outraged by the violation of their trust. However, some will caution against being judgmental. They will advise people to forgive, that they are only human and concentrate on the good they have produced. Many of us may be tempted and may give in under a perfect storm when circumstances meet our weakness. To ensure that we are not mired in a hypocritical state, we should consider implementing some of the following strategies.

  1. Greater self and other awareness – Realize your vulnerabilities and the motives of others. Samuel L. Jackson once noted that women may not be after him for his good looks, but his celebrity was the driver of some of his attention. Power attracts people, so understand how it works.
  2. Have an accountability partner or mentor – They will serve as a confidante or sounding board. This could be good friend on personal matters. A variation on this theme is to surround yourself with people who are beyond reproach who are not afraid to challenge you when you get out of line or start drifting from proper behavior.
  3. Control the situation – Focus on how things might look to others. Optics is a word used to describe how it might look to people who don’t know your character or do not know all of the facts. It is not always about your intentions. Innocence can look suspicious under the wrong lights. Evangelist Billy Graham was once said to be adamant about never putting himself in a position where he was alone with a woman other than his wife. There was always another person present. This is not paranoia, but being careful. You might not be morally the strongest person on record, but if you control the optics and the circumstances you can rebuke some of the challenges.
  4. Calculate the cost of the indiscretion. When you are contemplating the power of the temptation, you may want to consider the itemized cost. In order to deliver a pre-emptive strike, consider the total value of your assets and divide this by the time spent with in the indiscretion. It is best to do this before the temptation puts its hooks in you or you are blinded in the heat of passion. You will arrive at an astronomical rate that would far exceed what you would be willing to pay on the open market.

Recognize that power and temptation are often companions on our walk through life. Power causes excessive pride and is converted into arrogance in us and in our leaders. It feels good to flex our managerial muscle and watch people scurry and respond to our will and selfish demands. The ego may swell when power increases and we experience a feeling of entitlement and invincibility. We may develop the urge to abuse power and convince ourselves that we will not suffer the consequences. If we are not careful we will find ourselves if not on camera, in another setting begging for forgiveness and another chance to act responsibly and earn someone’s trust.

Copyright © 2012 Orlando Ceaser