Power is a deceptive beast. People avoid telling you what your power really is, in case you exercise it. By the same token, if you reach too far, people are very happy to chop your limb off. When you find yourself in a situation where you are expected to responsible for things, but not informed of the rules governing that responsibility, you can find yourself in a very precarious position.

The phrase “with great power comes great responsibility” is very cliché, but also very true. The more you can affect, then the more you are responsible for affecting either directly, or through in action indirectly. We all have power. We can all affect change on ourselves and our environment. The questions truly becomes, “should you?” and “is it wise to?”.

The inverse is also true. With responsibility comes power. Yet often I have found that the power I should have to affect the things I am given responsibility over has been either denied to me or obfuscated. This has left me feeling very disempowered, insecure and on average really pissed off.

Power should be clean and simple. You either do an action which creates an eddy current and affects the world around you, or you choose to not do something which allows the world to continue flowing around you. One of my catch phrases is this: “There is a huge difference between should and is – should defines the dream, while is defines reality”. You aim for should, but you work with is.

What we do have is the ability to act or not act. We do not define the consequences ourselves, but we can predict fairly accurately the small scale immediate consequences of our actions. This becomes convoluted in complex systems, such as paid work, crowds and any situation that involves groups of people with differing agendas. There are people who avoid exercising their own power by shifting the responsibility of their decisions to someone else, thus absolving their liability. These people can look like great followers, but can hide a passive (to your face) aggressive (when your back is turned) demeanour. It is human nature to exercise choice and power and generally the meekest people are the ones who quietly mess things up for you, just to prove to themselves that they exist.

There are also people who go out of their way to hold on to as much power as they can. These people will obfuscate lines of responsibility, hiding what it is you are expected or permitted to do; will look for and hoard evidence of any discrepancy of your actions, while at the same time avoiding any paper trail that may be used against them; and will change goal posts and give vague answers. Convolution is the key to people who hold on to power – the less you are sure about what you can do, the less power you are comfortable wielding, thus the more they hold on to.
Strategies to deal with these situations are to go back to policy and procedure, document everything you can and consider leaving to greener pastures. Resorting to policy and procedure means that you must do everything you can that is written down, even if it is frustrating, a drag, and annoying. This saves your bacon because if your actions are questioned, you can prove you did as you were instructed.

If a conflict arises between what the policy and procedure say versus what you were instructed to do by an upline, you ask for a written version of your instructions, or you email your boss stating “In the conversation we had, I just want to confirm that what you wanted me to do was …”. This is part of documenting everything. Keep copies of whatever you can, because if you need to get your hands on it in a hurry, you need to be able to do so. This can lead to some interesting filing systems for data. However don’t breach confidentiality or policy and procedure to do so as that can be used against you.

If these seem too onerous or are not keeping you safe, it is time to go. You never have to stay where you are. Sometimes we feel that we must stay for financial reasons, or because we owe it to fellow staff or clients to stay. This is all faulty. Your physical, emotional and employment health are far more valuable than loyalty to clients or staff.

About the only situation where a conflict between your needs and those of another should be seriously considered is when you need to protect your own child. Then it can be a tough call. My advice is, remember that there is only so much of yourself you can sacrifice before you also start to sacrifice the child. A small bump now can save a catastrophe later. You need to judge for yourself which is the bigger, or smaller, problem and whether your brief sacrifice will lead to long term gain for you and your child. If not, find a way out.

Choosing to stay or leave is a form of power.