Accounting, marketing, processing, building maintenance — these days everything is considered for outsourcing. However, as leaders, we may also be outsourcing our authority and power.
Joseph, a highly educated specialist, was thrilled to have a strong office manager, Sharon, who brought order to the complex tornado of information, staff, contracts and supplies that rained on his office daily. Sharon had the right mix of organizational skills and commanding presence to pull it all together.
Joseph was scared to lose Sharon and equally as concerned to make her mad, so he never set appropriate boundaries. Eventually, Sharon was reaching into the details of how Joseph and the other specialist in the office practiced, dictating the contracts, supplies and other materials they should use.
Was Sharon to blame? Heck no! Her strong personality was why she managed the office well. Joseph’s inability to professionally communicate appropriate boundaries is the reason why she overstepped her reach.
Authority can be outsourced with employees. (You can give it away to anyone really).
It can also be handed out like candy at Halloween during meetings. In meetings with complex issues, where the scope of responsibility sometimes comes with gray areas, it is especially important to be clear on what you own. As heated debates ensue, it is easy for other meeting participants to debate over what should be done — and this is fine.
The issue comes when they attempt to dictate what should be done with something that falls under your domain.
If you don’t verbally set boundaries, you most certainly will be passively handing over your authority. Once or twice won’t have much of an impact. However if this is a chronic issue, it undermines your authority and will ultimately impact your ability to effectively manage your domain, limiting your ability to take on additional responsibilities.
If jumping into shark-infested waters feels equally appealing to firmly communicating boundaries at work, then here are a few hints:
1. Own the situation.
If you find yourself blaming the other person/people, stop it. By blaming, you are giving the other person total control of the situation.
Relationships are like a dance, and the way you interact with other people affects how they respond to you.
I’m not suggesting the other person isn’t a jerk, or shouldn’t be “doing better.” All of that may be true but by blaming, you focus on what THEY should have done, which takes your focus away from the actions YOU could take to solve the issue at hand. Think of yourself as the leader in this dance.
It is up to you to try different techniques. Push your boundaries and to grow to handle more complex situations.
2. Change your body chemistry for a boost.
Amy Cuddy, a Harvard social psychologist, suggests “power posing” prior to events where you need a confidence boost. Research shows that holding confident postures affects the testosterone and cortisol levels in your brain, giving you the added jolt of confidence needed to have that challenging conversation.
Check out Amy’s TED talk for more information on her research: http://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are.html
3. Set yourself up for success, but don’t expect perfection.
You may muster the confidence to confront your “Sharon” and it may be as smooth as a baby’s belly — with Sharon understanding and changing her ways. It may also be the worst conversation of your life with Sharon exploding in a rage and making the situation even worse.
To mitigate any risk, practice the conversation with a trusted friend or mentor. Aim to be professional, polite and firm. After the conversation, learn from what went well, what didn’t, and take note on what you would like to improve the next time. That’s right — the next conversation — because this is not a one-time deal. Owning your authority is a weekly, daily, sometimes minute-by-minute activity.
The goal is not perfection. The goal is to fight through the fear and speak up. So get out there and start cancelling your outsourcing contracts and take full ownership of your domain at work.