When Abuse of the P Word Spoils It for Adults

Blog #306 — reading: about 1.7 minutes

We are quick to get angry when the CEO and other executives abuse their power. Rightly so. But I get even angrier when employees abuse privileges.

It’s not easy being a CEO. There is a dark side that others don’t always appreciate. It is the burden of decision-making. When you are unsure of what to do, you ask your boss. Or your boss’ boss. Ultimately, this delegating upwards ends with the CEO. Who does the CEO ask? That’s why it’s lonely at the top.

I once coached two CEOs who were feeling more than a tad lonely. Both had redesigned their organizations to be flat, with fewer rules and more freedom for their employees. Both now felt that they had failed.

Why? Because both had some employees who were abusing these privileges, mainly by slacking off. (This was before working from home added an extra dimension to slacking off.)

Oh, come on! Who hasn’t slacked off at some stage? I’m pretty sure these CEOs have slacked off in their time. (I do it as often as I can until I catch myself at it.) So why did the two CEOs feel they had failed?

Well, slacking off isn’t the actual issue. The problem lies in what slacking off does to other people, like colleagues and customers. Every workplace privilege or freedom has a dark side: we can abuse it at the expense of someone else.

(And, yes, you are right. We can abuse almost any privilege or freedom in society at the expense of someone else.)

Which is why these CEOs felt they had failed. Not in redesigning their organizations. But in not being tough enough. That’s when I get mad as a coach. When a few immature employees see fit to poison the workplace (and society) for adults.

If we are going to grumble about abuse of the P word at the top (power), then we should also condemn abuse of the P word lower down (privilege).

Welcome to my side of the nonsense divide.