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Updated: Mar 22, 2021

“Boss, can I take some days off?”

In my last few jobs, this isn’t even the way I’d phrase the request. I’d generally anticipate that the break I was asking for would be okay and submit dates as more of an information item. This summer, though, I’m in a different position - I’m the boss as well as the employee.

“Hmmm...let me get back to you.”

In Julie Diamond’s book “Power, A User’s Guide”, she lists a series of effects that a high-ranking position generally can have on a person. High rank contributes to better self-esteem, a greater sense that you are in control of your own future, and more chances to use your unique superpowers. There’s lots of good in that, ranging from mission accomplishment to better health outcomes. That said, each of those effects have their fatal flip sides, too – better self-esteem and greater sense of control contribute to disregard for other perspectives (higher rank people might be less likely to ask for driving directions – they know they can figure it out!). Getting more chances to wield your unique superpowers makes you more likely to feel you are superpowered in general (a supervisor giving detailed direction to field-level staff, despite her disconnect from field realities).

My inner boss’s reluctance isn’t coming from those particular manifestations of power, I think, but there’s another descriptor Julie provides that fits. High rank puts you in a position to make decisions that keep the whole in mind – decisions with a larger impact than the well-being of one individual. This is what happens when leaders institute layoffs as a way to preserve the mission of the organization, or push ahead instituting a new, efficient database system when most people would prefer to keep using the familiar one. The potential problem with this kind of thinking is it can separate you from empathy. While my inner boss was thinking big picture and considering how much needs to be accomplished with this new consulting practice, my inner employee’s weariness with endless hours of screen time wasn’t getting much attention.

One of my big takeaways from Julie’s book was her emphasis that power is highly dynamic, and healthy use of power results more from balance and self-awareness – not just finding a “good leader”. My inner boss is doing her best in her role, focusing on something larger than my own comfort and pleasure. My inner employee had something important to say about rest and replenishment. If I can make space for both of them, I have a much better chance of using my own power wisely, in the way I want – working for organizations that want to leverage their power wisely, too.

author enjoying time off on hiking trail

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