Martin Farrell: If you have authority, it can pay to be tough for the good of all

Are you too nice or too soft, and are you trying to care too much, asks our columnist

Martin Farrell
Martin Farrell

No, I'm not bullying you. No, I'm not being racist, sexist or anything else-ist. You're paid to do a job, so I'm suggesting that you do it. I'm your boss and part of my job is to help you to do yours.

Someone who does not have the ability to do their job or who for whatever reason isn't able to apply themselves right now, hits back and makes accusations.

"You're bullying me. You're being sexist. You're a racist. I'm going to tell the board; they'll listen to me."

Their fear is speaking; they are trembling inside and they are grasping at the power that they feel they lack.

Yes, sure, there is bullying, sexism, racism and the rest. These bad things happen in the third sector, and they shouldn't. But that's not what this little piece is about. This is about power struggles that rage and debilitate – not good for meeting your mission and getting the job done. Allowing this to happen is like leaving all the heaters on in a house, which costs a fortune and entails the risk of causing a fire. Don't do it.

You're a manager, maybe a chief executive, maybe a board member or chair. Don't stand for this behaviour. Know where the power lies. Know what your job is and do it. Does that sound simple? Yes, maybe it does, but too many times I've seen spurious accusations spilling blood on the carpet. They create a painful distraction from serving your beneficiaries. It's a painful mess.

Put your hand on your heart, check with others and be sure of the truth of the accusations. If you find no substance, take action. Take firm action knowing who has authority in this situation (you). Secure the backing of those you are accountable to and use your power well; don't dribble it away in seemingly endless wrangles over months and years.

Do you notice your habit here? Are you too nice? Too soft? Are you trying to care too much? Do you not live out the authority you have?

It's time to change. Holding to the spirit of the sector, and with full heart and soul, be tough for the good of all.

Martin Farrell, an international facilitator and crisis coach at

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