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Relinquish the Boss Position


You get on a plane. You aren’t the boss, especially if you fly cattle class or on Easy jet. You have to relinquish the boss position to the pilot and his hated minions. But, hey, it’s only for a flight. 

As people get older they get to liking the feeling of being in control, or being 'the boss'. They assume, wrongly, that it is 'being the boss' that has got them where they are. Actually being treated as if you are the boss is a by product of age, wealth and skill. And skill is related to learning power not boss power.

Boss power feels good though. So it's not surprising that as people get older they start to fear what might happen when they relinquish the boss position. 

People who are the big bosses at work are sometimes, strangely, better at relinquishing boss power than people who are midway in the pecking order. In order to get to the very top they've had to learn a thing or two. And to have your eyes wide open to learn you have to relinquish, at that moment, the knee-jerk need to be the boss. 

Writers are often the very worst at relinquishing the boss position. In their mind, because of their facility with words and arguments, they are always in the right and always ‘the winner’. If they are dissed or insulted, they make a very convincing case, to themselves, for the ignorance and cretinism of the attacker. If they are bested in public in an argument they go home and write it out, getting the better of everyone. Lots of the best fiction is driven by this kind of wish fulfilment. Jane Austen. Ian Fleming. Patrick O Brien.

In fact, the more inept at doing things in everyday life the writer is, the more likely he is to be a super hero in his own mind, such are the subtle side effects of refusing to relinquish the boss position.

On training weekends with executives you find it is often the bosses (medium not big bosses) who screw up the most. This is good for morale, but bad for the boss’s ego. You see, they are all in a new situation but the underlings are used to relinquishing boss power. When they do this their brain is freed up to see WHAT IS REALLY GOING ON. But the boss is so used to appearing the boss, and fearful of what might happen if he doesn’t appear the boss, that he doesn’t listen and screws up. On a raft trip for executives, lead by a friend of mine, the boss suddenly leapt out of the raft onto a rock. He did this midstream because he panicked though he called it ‘an executive decision’, ie. he had to act the boss, even if it was a dumb move. The others stayed in the raft because they could SEE WHAT WAS REALLY GOING ON. (And rescuing the boss took the rest of the day...)

On desert trips, Nile dwelling Egyptians are often the best people to take. They know how to relinquish being the boss (even though they do use too much water). Brits and Germans are worse. They’re always asking when the next stop is, how far the next oasis is. They see less and learn less because they can’t relinquish the boss position.

It’s only for a few minutes. Or a few days. In the West, for some reason, we are obsessed by dominate or be dominated. But you don’t need to ‘dominate’ if you can see what is REALLY GOING ON. Which you can- if you kick back, observe and listen, and relinquish the boss position.

Learning is about observing, about paying attention. ‘Paying’ is an appropriate word because it will cost you. The cost is the computing power of your brain. When you have a ‘boss position’ head on you’re using up masses of computing power just operating that head. It’s not a ‘learning head’.

Strangely the same is true of being ‘humble’. Being ‘humble’ uses up computing power so there is none left over to learn. I know because I studied for a long time in Japan acting ‘humble’ to the Japanese Aikido teachers. Bowing and scraping and not realising that all that is not an end in itself, but simply a mechanism, designed in the past, to help you relinquish the boss position. So that you CAN SEE WHAT IS REALLY GOING ON and therefore learn something. Except I was so busy hoping to get recognition for all my bowing and scraping I was actually the slowest learner in the group.

When we say that someone is humble we usually mean they are good at acting submissively. But that is not the same as relinquishing the boss position. Acting submissively means relinquishing not just the power to tell others what to do, but also the power to act without permission. But when we relinquish the boss position we retain the power to act without permission, because that is part and parcel of retaining the power to SEE what is really going on.

There is also the other peculiarly British thing where you say “I am not the boss here, but neither is anyone else.” In other words you become a kind of policeman making sure no one ‘gets above themselves’. Brits do this with aggressive mocking humour usually and it’s a rather effective way a dominant person can dominate without appearing to. But who cares? If someone wants to be the boss see where that goes, see what is really going on, maybe it doesn’t matter. Being a policeman uses up a lot of computing power too.

But just as one should be able to relinquish being the boss, one should be able to embrace it too. Kids don’t want their teacher to admit his doubts about the education system, they want to learn how to spell. If a group on an expedition is about to walk over a cliff they need a boss to tell them it's dangerous, they don’t need a discussion group.

Relinquishing the boss position doesn’t just mean relinquishing the power to tell other what to do. It means relinquishing the knee-jerk reaction to self-justify, to be ‘in the right’; it means giving up the need ‘to have an answer’, giving up the need to feel the best, the best informed, the ‘one who is really right’. It doesn’t mean you have to feel like you are a dunce, or someone in error. All you have to do is slide yourself into neutral, engage outwardly, direct your attention outward and admit to yourself OK, maybe I don’t have all the answers, but let’s see, all the same, what is really going on here.



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