I was neither a fan of superheroes nor comics when growing up. I was blissfully ignorant for 22 years. Comics and all things superhero were for boys; crafts and all things princess were for girls. Say what you like about stereotyping, I was happy.
I then met my now husband, and my ‘super-education’ began. For the avoidance of doubt, the Gordons are strict Marvel fans, but will entertain the odd DC movie for the purposes of ridiculing it (with the only exception to date being Wonder-Woman, with which we remain rather reluctantly impressed).
Spider-man is perhaps the most relatable character in the Marvel universe. He is ‘just some kid’ trying to survive high-school while also saving the world on a semi-regular basis. However, the infamous quote speaks to all of us, regardless of their superhero status.
Whether you are the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, or a first-year university student, you have some form of power. It may be over 1,000 staff members, or it may be over your younger brother. The first time I really felt ‘powerful’ was when I first attended a summer camp as a Guide Leader. The Leaders sat on their bottoms, supervising as the Guides practised a valuable life skill (washing up), and sent back any items that had so much of the tiniest soap sud! We were drunk on power, high on authority, and misused it. I decided then and there what type of Leader I wanted to be. I found a hand towel and got to work. To me, the ability to send back a dirty dish may seem minimal, nominal. But to the Guides who were sitting on the ground, scrubbing in dirty dish water, I certainly had great power.
Change the scenario. The 20 children on a short-term summer camp are 1,000 employees working long-term for a corporation. The teenage and twenty-something Leaders are managers, employers, and CEOs. If we assess power and authority from the view of the person who is under it, rather than the person who asserts it, we will have an entirely different view on the way in which power and responsibility are dolled out and applied.
The Stanford Prison Experiment (1971)
Professor Zimbardo’s dramatic simulation of prison life was terminated abruptly after 6 days (though the initial plan was for a fortnight) due to the effects on the participating college students. The experiment set out to learn what happens when good people find themselves in a bad place. In a very short space of time, the ‘guards’ became callous and the ‘prisoners’ suffered extreme stress and depression. To learn more about the Stanford Prison Experiment, click here.
The experiment gave certain students the ability to assert power over others. This ‘power’ was rapidly and radically misused. As an outsider, I pity both groups of students, and, though I cannot guarantee it, I am sure that if the roles within the experiment had been reversed; the prisoners-turned-guards would have a lot to say on the way in which they wished to be treated, as would the guards-turned-prisoners. For those of you who watched the Netflix television series ‘Orange is the New Black’, you will have seen a similar scenario unfold throughout Season 5, with the consequences seen in Season 6.
Evidently, this example is a rather extreme demonstration of the negative effects of poorly-planned distribution and the resulting corruption of power. That said, there are positive methods for keeping power in check.
Perhaps there are management techniques that you have seen previously, which you would like to be on the receiving end of?
Personally, I love being treated with the honour system: ask me to do something and give me a deadline, but do not micro-manage me, rather wait until I come to you with questions. If you hired me for my job, you must think I am capable of doing it on my own or with my team.
Another idea is applying Covey’s Time Management Grid when assigning tasks, so that they happen in order of priority, rather than dolling them out in lists.
I also like to delegate having differentiated between what is need, desired, and artistic licence, where ‘need’ is ‘must result in X/method must be Y’, ‘desired’ is ‘preferable results include X, Y, or Z methods used could be X, Y, Z’, and ‘artistic licence’ involves allowing the employee free reign over the task providing it is completed on time and up to standards. For example, if designing a marketing poster for an event, the needs will be precise information regarding date, location, etc.; desired will be poster size and colour scheme in-keeping with the company marketing, and the ‘artistic licence’ relates to layout. When I was working as Operations Manager for the Not-For-Profit organisation Shema B’ni, a similar process was applied to produce brochures for the events I managed (example pictures below).
All in all
I am not suggesting that I always use my power in the most responsible manner and have never made a mistake or treated someone poorly, nor that I know the one right way to management. However, as someone who has been managed and manager, like many people, I am an expert on how I like to be treated. I try to treat others in kind.
The Marvel comics were right, our responsibilities and power are equal forces and must be applied to the same degree. A person is never too powerful to be responsible for their actions, nor is a person ever too responsible to exercise their power appropriately.
Not everyone is suited to be placed in powerful positions. If too much power is given freely, or the individual is unaware of the consequences aligned with misuse of their authority, they may be unprepared for the responsibilities inextricably tied to their position. That is not to say that they will never be suited to take power, rather they ought to take some time before assuming that position (an opportunity often not offered to someone seeking to rise to a higher, more authoritative position).
This post is dedicated in fond memory of Stan Lee.
More mindfulness and wellbeing tips can be found in my motivational calendar for 2019.
Whether reflecting on experience, or looking forward in anticipation, every day is an opportunity to do something positive. TV psychologist & author Dr Audrey Tang (43) and creative writer & millennial business blogger Rachel Gordon (23) have teamed up to inspire your 2019 – whatever your age!
We have recently released a charity edition within the Mindful Motivations range, from which all proceeds will be donated to the children’s mental health charity Place2Be. Please purchase a calendar to help us support this worthwhile cause.