I was enjoying some of the early Spring (“early” for Finnish standards) with my daugther yesterday, as she was playing on the trampoline. She was jumping amazingly, doing flips I had never seen her doing before. She was gaining confidence, until she miscalculated and slightly hit her head on the rubber surface of the trampoline. Nothing too painful, yet it suddenly made me realize how dangerous what she was doing felt.
She tried to repeat the flips a couple of times, and I was way too scared to let that continue. I only had terrible images of terrible things happening to her in my mind. Eventually, I told her to stop, as it was too dangerous and she could get hurt. After that, she continued jumping more safely and certainly less enjoyably on the trampoline, and I could perceive she had lost part of the confidence that she had so bravely conquered.
The point is, when we are in a position of power, our words and behaviours have an immense impact on the people that look up to us. We can pretend that is not true, that it does not matter, that after all we are just sharing our opinion, and that we are no different from the people we lead. This is a trap I see many flat-organization hands-off managers and leaders do. And still words and behaviours are the major determinant of what we will get from our people.
I am not sharing this to give the impression that overanalyzing or beating ourselves up for our faults is a good option. If we do keep awareness on this power, there are plenty of ways we can correct our mistakes.
“I am sorry I asked you to stop, I was acting out of fear.”
“There is really no reason why you should not apply for that internal position, I am just panicking at the idea to lose such a valid team member.“
“Please, go ahead and do as you were suggesting yesterday. My initial reaction has not been one of the best, and it is because we have never tried that before and honestly I have no idea if that could work or not.“
If we do not maintain awareness, on the other hands, all we get is compliance and bottlenecks that have blossomed out of our own fears and self-doubts.