I sometimes have a problem with authority. Growing up, I never liked being told what to do. I still kind of don’t for that matter. I’ve been lucky enough to have a job where I get a lot of say in what I do each day. But it hasn’t always been that way. I’ve worked jobs (part-time) where I had to do things a certain way, even if I thought there was a better way to do it. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never been the insubordinate type. I’m not the rebel who wants to do things his own way just to be different. I just need to believe that what I’m doing makes sense before I can fully be comfortable.
I’ve been thinking back on some of the situations where I didn’t buy into the system, or where I had trouble trusting that the person in charge knew best, and I’m trying to figure out what was really going on. Why did I not respect their authority? Was it a maturity issue? Was it their leadership style? As with anything, it’s probably a combination of a lot of reasons.
These thoughts on authority have been on my mind ever since I traveled to Orlando a few weeks ago, to a meet at ESPN World Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney with our cross country team. Part of my job is to organize team travel, so flying a group of 20 athletes to Florida for a long weekend takes a lot of planning on my part. To add to this, our head coach wasn’t flying in until the night after we arrived because he was being recognized for an award on our campus back in Canton. That meant I was the sole coach in charge until he arrived. This was a first for me.
Upon arriving to the course and checking the team in with the meet organizers, I was directed to speak to the guy with the headset about me being interviewed for the online broadcast… Wait, what?
“They want to interview me? But I’m just the assistant coach, the guy who ordered the plane tickets and booked the hotel rooms. Coach Hazen is the one you want to interview, after all, he has been coaching at Malone for 48 years.”
These are some of the thoughts that went through my head.
I tried to explain it to them, but considering Coach Hazen wouldn’t get there until late that night, they insisted on interviewing me instead. I couldn’t say no, so I followed the man with the headset to their on site production studio, with monitors covering the walls, and control stations with fancy knobs and buttons… like you see on TV. This was a legit production studio, and I was about to do an ESPN production quality interview.
Okay, let’s be honest. This wasn’t going to be aired on SportsCenter or anything. In fact, they only used about 30 seconds from my five-plus minute interview during the actual webcast of the race on ESPN3. Even so, I was nervous about the whole thing. I’m not used to being on camera, which was part of it; but I don’t think that was the full reason my hands felt a little shaky and my voice weaker than usual.
I knew all the correct answers to their questions, I knew what I should say about the team and about the meet and how the season has been going. What made it difficult was I had not yet accepted that I had the authority to talk about these things. Even though what I was saying was true, hearing it come from me felt like I was saying things that I wasn’t in charge of saying. But I did my best to pretend, although faking it is not in my natural skill set.
As with many of the things that I spend time overthinking, in the end, they are probably not as significant as I make them out to be. Most people wouldn’t spend as much time as I do dissecting what was going on during that interview. The head coach wasn’t there, so I answered some questions about the team, no big deal. But that’s not how my mind works. I needed to think more deeply about this.
To get to a point, I believe that many people’s problem with authority is rooted in how it is distributed to those in charge. Many times authority is given without being earned, or even taken by someone who isn’t ready to lead. When authority is given to someone who isn’t ready for it, sometimes the responsibility that comes along with it is taken for granted. When it isn’t clear why the person in charge is in charge, or how they came to be in that position, it’s hard for some to respect their authority.
As I grow as a coach and as a person, I am learning better where my place is in regards to authority. There are times when I need to embrace my role as a leader, take charge, and own the power I have been given. At other times, it is better to step back and follow those who have been given authority in other areas of life. As with most things in life, this will take time to master. But it starts with awareness of what is going on in my head. And I guess that’s why I wrote this.