I spent most of my life hating my bosses for being stupid, bad at their jobs, mean, and cheap. And let’s be honest, some of them were, but some of them were extremely competent, better at their job than most, and yet I still felt abused, underpaid.
And why not? I was underpaid.
And why not? I was underpaid. And management did resolve contentious issues by firing people instead of finding ways to seek help for them. Avoiding lawsuits and making profit were almost always more important than an individual’s well being. It varied from company to company. No one was devoid of compassion, but for some it was 80% profit 20% care, and others it was 60% profit 40% care.
At one company, our team won awards for being in the top 5 in our sector, they showed us the millions they were making in profit, and then proceeded to give me, and likely others, a ~30 cent per hour raise (I only made a few dollars an hour above minimum wage at the time.) No matter how excellent your boss is at their job, it’s hard to feel like you’re the important one in that relationship.
The mind likes simple answers
And of course the mind likes simple answers. It’s harder to say “The current economic system gives preference to people who already have wealth and gives more to people who are able to exploit workers enough that they make a lot of profit, but not enough that their workers become unproductive.”
It’s easier to say “My boss is bad at their job and doesn’t understand me.”
We put ourselves in leadership positions in our head. We say what we would do with the power. We would pay everyone better. We would get paid more. We would be nicer. We would listen better. We would fix this little problem and that little problem.
But that’s the paradox. No one is that perfect. Those leadership roles are usually a combination of complexity, making unpopular decisions, and figuring out whether to explain what the other leaders didn’t.
Oh, and as a leader, you probably have so much shit to do that you don’t have time to stop and explain everything you do to every person who asks.
In our heads, leadership is an incredibly simple position. In reality, it’s extremely complex and unforgiving.
The problem isn’t your boss.
The problem isn’t your boss. Everyone would struggle in that position.
The problem is that one person gets to make unilateral decisions for everyone. We assume that one person is so great that they can understand and solve every problem on the team. We assume that the rest of the team isn’t smart or talented enough to understand business decisions.
But that “reality” is far from the truth. Not all, but many employees are smart enough to understand at least somewhat complex decisions. They’re often better at understanding what affects them and their work than most other people in the company.
Saying every group should run the same way is like saying every animal should be a bird.
We’ve removed people’s ability to be directly involved in the rules around their work, to shape that structure for themselves. Often, what leaders get in exchange for this is a false feeling of control, and sometimes more productivity.
Deep down, we want to know that society is working, that our business, our community organization is working. But even the most structured organizations can fall into dysfunction, sometimes due to their rigid structure.
When people try to revolutionize, to change an organization, they have ideals. The world should be this way. People should be treated that way. Life should be this way.
A lot of us can agree that life should be better.
When people revolutionize, they may also idealize their role in leadership. I will change the world. I will treat people better. I will make life good for everyone.
And a lot of us can agree that if we had more leaders like this, we would be better off.
Have you ever met someone who was nice all the time?
Have you ever met someone who was nice all the time? Who never got angry? Have you ever met someone who was always productive, no matter the circumstance? Have you ever met someone who made the best decision 100% of the time and was never wrong?
More importantly, have you met someone who could do all of these things?
When we get into an actual leadership position, we suddenly realize how hard it is and we start asking: Why can’t everyone just understand what I’m trying to do? Why is everyone arguing? Why can’t people just do their job? Why doesn’t anyone want to listen to me? And sometimes: Why is everyone here so stupid?
In the same way we tear down our leaders in our heads, we build ourselves up as a perfect version of them, even if we’ve had no practice.
Maybe we’ve adjusted some things. Maybe instead of us personally, it’s our values that are in charge, or our well-trained team of people. Maybe we’re not making all the decisions, but they have been written down somewhere and everyone is dutifully abiding by them.
And on the way, motivated by our ideals, we may cast out those who disagree.
We can say that people who disagree are bad, evil, stupid, in the same way that we criticized leadership. And for some, there are no shades of grey, just black and white.
We can miss allies that have similar aims, that can truly help us, but have slightly different beliefs than we do, because we do not like their version.
When you zoom out of your own belief system, you can see that the entire world is this way. Full of people who will and won’t compromise. Full of people who are apathetic, and people who are truly motivated by completely opposite beliefs.
And who is to say that our beliefs are right? That what we are doing is the best? We hope it is, and that is why we do what we do. But we cannot achieve anything, let alone everything, by ourselves.
In the same way that we can’t be the only boss, we also can’t be the only organization, and our ideals can’t be the only ideals.
We are spoiled by the amount of creativity, intelligence, and compassion in the world. We need to look out for one and other.
I urge you to seek the truth in others truths. To see a world outside of your own boundaries. And to co-create a reality that you could not have dreamed of alone.
For the today you live, is the tomorrow we create.