Tuesday, April 25, 2006

You're Not the Boss of Me

How many times have you heard little kids say that? Where do they hear that phrase? And why is it so universal?

Maybe it's because somewhere in our human DNA, even as little kids, we want some level of independence in our lives. When we're toddlers, they (the former children who now are adults with poor memories) call that the "terrible twos" and just wait (im)patiently for us to "grow out of it." And then they domesticate us into believing that we should do what they tell us "because I'm the parent/teacher/authority figure."

Why is it so surprising that we have a certain level of defiance in our organizations? We've been trained throughout our lives that to speak our mind is somehow "wrong" or "bad" and we've been waiting all our lives with some pent-up resentment we don't even know about to say what we think. And then we have a real boss who we fight because all we can remember is that time we said "You're not the boss of me" and got punished.

Employees don't want to be told what they should do or have to do or must do. How does "boss-ship" work in our lives? That's the "do as I say because I'm the boss" mentality.

Employees are not toddlers anymore, although some may act like it because they haven't yet realized that all their pent-up anger from their toddler years is still in there pent-up somewhere. They're still resisting and defying and sometimes even sabotaging those bosses - and often the bosses are reciprocating, and it becomes a drama of collusion. What we resist persists, and that causes even more anger and frustration.

The Gallup organization says that "employees leave supervisors, not companies" ... but how often does that employee find another supervisor just like the one he/she left because "wherever you go, there you are"?

The only way to stop the game of collusion is to stop. And someone has to be the adult. We already know that it doesn't work to try to change someone else. So when an adult chooses to stop playing the game, he or she does it to alter his or her OWN behavior, not someone else's.

And now there's no game to play. When one side concedes, the game is over. If we as adults are still caught up in our childhood game of "king of the mountain," we will all lose.

I'm not blaming anyone here - employees or bosses. In fact, blame is probably the most useless emotion there is. But I am saying that in my experience, when things weren't working in my life the way I wanted them to, I got the best results when I looked in the mirror. When I realized that I'm not the boss of anyone but myself, that's where the magic began to happen.

You don't have to be the boss to be the adult. What do you have to lose?


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