I sometimes work with people who come to me saying that they think they have a problem with authority. Some of these situations remind me so much of how I felt before I decided to take the leap to live the independent life. I see two classes of ‘problem’ here. That thing of having a problem with authority and that other thing of always having a problem with authority. And, the two are not quite the same.
So, let’s look at there difference between what I call: (I) justified indignation and defiance of authority and (II) knee-jerk, almost pathological, defiance of authority
Problem with authority (I): Justified
A real clue to if your frustration is justified lies in your own performance and work ethic. If your skills and experience leave you stifled by a manager that is not up to the task, is an empty-suit or plain incompetent, then it is understandable that you will struggle. However, acting-out or constantly locking horns is unlikely to be an effective strategy. Unless, you have a plan to take their job and take control of matters that is!
This may or may not be possible or advisable. The point for the purposes of this discussion is to realise that this is not you having a problem with authority per se. Rather, it is a problem of feeling limited in your role. Of feeling stifled by the sub-par performance of your superiors and wider organisational culture. Remember to be compassionate too. Some people just don’t bring the capability or passion that you bring — and this may be due to their unique life circumstances. However, that does not mean you have to stick around to be part of it! Your skills and energy may be better rewarded elsewhere. Find another job that recognises you.
Problem with authority (II): Almost pathological
There is such a thing as habitually feeling the need to defy authority. Perhaps, this is because you are unable to take criticism generally or because of bad experiences in the past that have left you bitter and deeply suspicious of authority. The memory of bad experiences can sometimes be unconsciously triggered in the present without you realising it. For example, if you are always agitated by the input of even a very competent and caring boss, then perhaps there is something deeper going on about how you relate to them that stems from your past..
The key is to investigate what you are triggered by and when, and how this affects you in the moment in your interactions. The more awareness you build around your behaviour, the more you empower yourself to break free of these patterns.
Problem with authority (III): You just can’t do it
Ok, so there is a third category. There are people (and I would count myself as one of them) who just want to have creative ownership over what they do. Who want to do things in their own way, in their own time and at their own pace. Such a person might struggle to fit into the requirements of regimented work patterns, particularly in conventional corporate settings.
So, if you are not triggered by authority in a knee-jerk manner and can effectively work with authority when necessary, but STILL struggle with someone else’s rule book, I say that’s totally cool. Perhaps you are one of those people that just needs to do your own thing. This is not having a problem with authority, it is being a free spirit. And, that is a good thing.
Remember that what might at first glance appear to be a problem with authority may turn out to be entirely justified. If so, it may still be ineffective to remain in such a role within a mediocre organisational culture only to endure unnecessary frustration. Don’t waste time — find a way forward or a way out. Remember too that you may be someone who is just not cut out to work for somebody else!
Whatever the case may be, take the time to deepen your awareness of your behaviour and how you show up with others. The more that you know yourself, the more you empower yourself with choice.
Harsha is a 1:1 coach and independent thinker based in London. He empowers people to find more clarity, confidence and focus in their lives — to cut through the noise, in a world so full of it. Harsha’s new book, Machine Ego: Tragedy of the Modern Mind, is now available in paperback and Kindle through Amazon.