How to Manage Dis-empowerment At Work (Before you exit singing “Ding dong the witch is dead…”)

So, you’re strong, you’re focused, you’re capable, you’re achieving. You hit your targets, you play that corporate game, you feel in your bones you’re destined for great things at this company, and then boom. Slam. Pop. Wham. Ow. ‘Tis not so. Someone else gets the promotion you knew was yours. A new boss is brought in between you and your current supervisor. An area you lead suddenly, inexplicably, almost surreptitiously moves under someone else’s control. Decisions you once made are now by consensus – does your opinion even get heard any more? All and any of these types of incidents at work happen to the best of us, and they happen all too often for the corporate world to look us respectfully in the eyes and admit. Hang your head in shame corporate world. These circumstances are demoralising, demeaning, humiliating, upsetting and utterly destabilising. Especially when delivered without explanation, pastoral care, sensitivity or alternative renewed direction/progression for the vulnerable, previously eager soul.

It's such a tired, trodden, sodden old path

I have traversed the corporate realms from junior ad exec in my 20s to now a senior leader in the world’s largest comms network. Has it got any easier? Any less personal? Any less political?  Sadly, not one jot! It’s perhaps tougher at the top as it’s such a solitary plight. No gang to bitch with up here.  It hurts more. Reverberates deeply inside. It feels like more of a public humiliation. And life feels so much more precarious. There’s way more at stake up here. Job security, financial commitments, reputation - it all acutely matters.

There’s a delicate balance between the reflex response of sticking two fingers up at the mis-treatment and walking out, and the desire to remain loyal, ambitious in the current role, devoted to high performance, entrusting that the forces higher up do indeed still have your best interests at heart and want you to succeed.  The cynic in me knows alas in this game politics detrimentally and dominantly disrupt that which is fair and just.

If you’re not clear on your remit how can you perform? If you’ve been shifted into a new direction by the powers that be without overtly being asked to accept a new set of goals why would you perform?  If you see your career potential being blocked, where’s the incentive to give your heart and soul?

 

What is it that drives high performance and consistent employee engagement in organisations? It’s 100% clarity of organisational vision and purpose and a clear understanding of your own personal contribution to that vision.  Take the Netflix Culture wonder deck that Sheryl Sandberg cited as ‘the best thing to come out of silicon valley in years’. (Do Google it, it's worth devouring.) The premise is:-

Explicit vision and role remit + 100% Trust and Freedom

= Top Performance & Loyalty

The magic formula, now widely being adopted by laggard businesses around the globe. It works.

When Personnel Crises Occur

In my experience the most commonly seen flawed management of business leaders is when they fail to describe a new vision and/or role remit.  They shunt key players around like chess pieces without consulting/advising/directing/asking them. This is exactly when personnel crises occur. The manager feels the direct report is under performing, the direct report feels confused then demotivated by what they’re meant to be doing.  Clarity of role, with clear objectives and a personal development plan are imperative. As are regular check ins on how things are going. Feedback both up and down is essential.

7 Ways to Manage Your Own (temporary) Disempowerment

Back to how to navigate this when you’re the victimised chess piece and you need the financial security.  Take heed of the following 7 tips to stay calm, rational, progressive and sane.

  1. Stay factual and do not get emotional. Agree, apologise, present points of view objectively and always without emotion. Keep your cool and suppress the rage/tears/frustration bubbling beneath.
  2. Don’t make any assumptions. Seek clarity. Refer to contracts, objectives, any written documentation. Ask for written feedback, instructions, etc. No more assumptions.
  3. Keep HR informed – with clarity and without emotion.
  4. Play the game. Remember this is a game and games (and indeed life) are sadly not always fair. Get clear on what you are now meant to be doing, how your manager wants you to succeed, then deliver. Over index on happy, contributing, performance smashing you. Have fun!
  5. Respect your gut. Negative emotion is always a beautifully poignant signal that change is needed. Don’t fight, but take a deep breath and analyse the situation objectively, if now is time to move on, set positive wheels in motion to start a new chapter and get on with it (silently, subtly and whilst hitting those currently objectives of course).
  6. Channel any inner turmoil with creativity and kindness. The absolute best ways to alleviate stress are to focus on selflessly giving to others or with creative pursuits. So go and make a scrapbook of memories/gingerbread house/cake/etc and take it round to your sister/mum/dad/BFF/etc. You’ll feel amazing and be back in your happy place, where all those high vibrational frequencies will attract more joy and good stuff your way.
  7. Plan your exit. You don’t need to take this. You are worth more. If an organisation hasn’t and doesn’t value its people, it never will. Get out and find a new home where you can soar.

Good luck dear fellow game players. I would love to hear your experiences and if you agree with me.

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