Positional Power: Being a Good “Lifeguard”

Welcome to the Evolutionaries Podcast! Today, Randy and Carmen are talking about positional power. Randy leads off with an inspiring story about how positional power can be used for good — and to turn a bad experience into an amazing one. Carmen follows it up with an equally impressive story — but on the opposite side. Positional power happens everywhere, all the time. What kind of an experience does your business provide? Does your company use their positional power for good — or for evil?


Podcast Transcript

Carmen:  Welcome to Evolutionaries podcast.  I’m Carmen Voilleque.

Randy:  I am Randy Harrington [laughing].

Carmen:  In rare form apparently.

Randy:  I don’t know where that came from.

Carmen:  I don’t, I don’t know what that means.  I’m getting nervous about this podcast [laughing].  All right, so today we’re talking about positional power.

Randy:  Yeah.

Carmen:  And, uh, for those of you who read our blog, I recently posted a little, uh, line of thought on this.

Randy:  Yes.

Carmen:  Positional power.

Randy:  Positional power.  It’s a big deal and, uh, we run into all the time.  Uh, very brief story.  I was flying back from San Antonio, Texas recently and got completely hosed by United.  The wonderful person in the United Club there though said basically, “The good news is you’ve been upgraded.  The bad news is you’re not going to make it home tonight”, so that was very interesting.

Carmen:  Yeah.

Randy:  And then she said, “You know, if you want to actually get home, I’m going to have to put you on another airline.”

Carmen:  Mm-hmm.

Randy:  I’m like, “Oh my gosh.”  Means I had to go back out through …

Carmen:  Yeah.

Randy:   Security again.

Carmen:  Yes.

Randy:   Go back over …

Carmen:  [inaudible 00:00:54]

Randy:  Check in at Alaska Airlines …

Carmen:  Yeah.

Randy:   I go over to Alaska.  There’s no line, and there are two attendants, uh, standing in front of me.  As I walk toward them, I’m doing the eye contact thing to say which one of you should I come to see?

Carmen:  Mm-hmm.

Randy:  And this very perky, fabulous person on the Alaska team said literally, “Pick me.  Pick me.”  [laughing].  I couldn’t believe it.

Carmen:  Inconceivable.

Randy:  Inconceivable, so I walk to her, I give her the paperwork, and it’s that, that paperwork that says “I’m a loser.”

Carmen:  Yeah.

Randy:  It says I was on another airline …

Carmen:  Now you have to take care of me.

Randy:  And now I’m … now you have to take care of me because I’m worthless.

Carmen:   Yeah.

Randy:  And end of the story is she’s putting us into the best seats that she possibly can.

Carmen:   Mm-hmm.

Randy:  She’s thinking about our general comfort, and I said, “Wow!  This was such a great experience.  Thank you very much”, and she said, “I’m not hearing that from you because I’m going to tell you, thank you very much.  You’re the important person here.  You’re the one that makes this business go.”  She came out from around the corner and high-fived my wife and I.

Carmen:  [laughs] [inaudible 00:01:55] are you on medication [laughs]?

Randy:  I thought, what is this, but she completely … this [00:02:00] person …

Carmen:   That’s so weird.

Randy:  Completely …

Carmen:  Yeah.

Randy:  Turned my mood around …

Carmen:  Right.

Randy:  From being normal bitter travel guy to, to holy cow, this person is really …

Carmen:  Mm-hmm.

Randy:  Achieving magic …

Carmen:  Yeah.

Randy:  In, in her position.  She had positional power …

Carmen:  Mm-hmm.

Randy:  And she used it to my benefit and took care of me the whole way through.

Carmen:  Mm-hmm.

Randy:  I loved her.

Carmen:  Even though you were in a middle seat.

Randy:  I was in a middle seat.  It didn’t matter.  I was going … I made it home on time safely, and she did everything she possibly go given the circumstances …

Carmen:  Wow!

Randy:  In, in that situation …

Carmen:  Wow!

Randy:  And she was amazing.  Hats off to, uh, Alaska and San Antonio.  Uh, hats off, frankly, to the, to the United Club in San Antonio.  That was …

Carmen:  Mm-hmm.

Randy:  Uh, she, she worked hard to make sure that I got home too, so …

Carmen:  Mm-hmm.

Randy:   Both instances of positional power handled beautifully.

Carmen:  Well, and you know, you could say that the Alaska woman, you know, everything that happened would have happened anyway.  They … maybe they would have put you in those same middle seats, you know.  They [would have done all this 00:03:00] …

Randy:   Ah, yeah, yeah.

Carmen:  So all that would have happened anyway, but it wasn’t that she went above and beyond in what she could do necessarily.  We don’t know.

Randy:  We don’t know.

Carmen:  But that the way she approached doing it was huge for you.

Randy:   We felt like human beings.  We felt like we were heard, and cared for, and respected, and it was, it was great.

Carmen:  Really cool.  I have, uh, a different story [laughing].

Randy:  Institutional power gone horribly wrong?

Carmen:  Gone horribly wrong.  You know, the thing about positional power is it really, you know, it, it can be indisputable.

Randy:  Yeah.  Oh, sure.

Carmen:  Right?  I mean, that, that’s the whole nature of it, and so TSA.

Randy:  TSA, I was going right there [laughing].  I was like the TSA.

Carmen:  Yeah.  You … there’s no way around …

Randy:  You can’t do anything.

Carmen:   You got to take your shoes off.  You got to go through the little thing.

Randy:  Got to get those liquids out.

Carmen:   Yeah.  You know, you … it’s, it’s take off your metals and all that kind of stuff, so there’s really, it’s not negotiable.

Randy:  Right.

Carmen:  Right?

Randy:  Nicely said.

Carmen:   And um, and so they’ve got [00:04:00] this phenomenal cosmic positional power.

Randy:  Yeah.

Carmen:  And, uh, that can be a good thing.

Randy:  Some are great.

Carmen:  Some of them are really cool about it.

Randy:  Not many [laughs].

Carmen:  Not very many, and so anyway, here’s my story.  I’m, I’m in the airport, you know, doing my thing, checking in, and I had my bag of liquids, and I know the drill.

Randy:  Sure.

Carmen:  I’ve done it a million times, so I have my bag of liquids, and in, uh, the bag I had a … prepare yourself.

Randy:  Okay.

Carmen:  A four ounce bottle.

Randy:  Inconceivable.

Carmen:  This bottle was clear.

Randy:  Mm-hmm.

Carmen:  In the bottom of the bottle is one ounce of face cream.

Randy:  Mm-hmm.

Carmen:  So one ounce of face cream …

Randy:  And a four ounce.

Carmen:  And a four ounce clear …

Randy:  Clear bottle.

Carmen:  Bottle.  Okay.  I have used this bottle many times through TSA.  Now this is the other thing about TSA is the …

Randy:  Is the consistency thing, yeah.

Carmen:  The consistency thing they can work on, but there’s a woman who, who takes this bottle.  She comes back, and she says, “You can’t have this”, and I said, “Well, you know, okay, but you know, it’s not four ounces [laughing].  It’s in this, it’s … you can clearly see …

Randy:   [inaudible 00:05:02]

Carmen:  That this is one ounce.

Randy:   Very esoteric debate is about to ensue [laughs].

Carmen:  Well, I just couldn’t believe it.  I’m like, “Are you kidding me right now?  Are you going to take this away?  This is … I understand that the plastic …

Randy:  Is it the container or …

Carmen:  The size of the plastic is …

Randy:   The thing contained?

Carmen:  Or is it the stuff in it?  Yeah.  I said, “Let me ask you this.  If this ounce of cream were in a smaller bottle, but it’s the same cream that I want to take with me, but I just moved it.  If I just moved it from this bottle because I have other bottles [laughing] in my suitcase, so if I just move this, see, and I pull out one, here’s a smaller clear bottle right now.  If I just squeeze this from this bottle into this bottle …

Randy:  Right.

Carmen:  Am I fine?

Randy:  And she said, “Yes”.

Carmen:  She said, “Yes, but you can’t do that on this side of security [laughing].  You have to go back out.”

Randy:  Out and go back through security.

Carmen:  Squeeze this from the one bottle to the other bottle.  Get back in line and go through security again with the new bottle” [00:06:00] . I’m like, “Seriously?  Like isn’t somebody supposed to jump out and say, you’re punked”, right [laughing]?  This is like a punked moment because this cannot be real.  So …

Randy:  So what did you do?

Carmen:   Well, I had, I had a little extra time, and I was ticked.

Randy:  No.

Carmen:   So I’m like, all right.

Randy:  Oh, you went back.

Carmen:  So I walked back out of security, and I stood [laughing] eye to eye in front of her, and I started squeezing this, and she can see me.  She’s about, you know, 20 feet on the other side, but I’m squeezing this from one bottle to the other bottle [over the top 00:06:29], and this other TSA guy, clearly military [laughing], clearly, like a lot of ‘em are ex-military, right?

Randy:  Absolutely.

Carmen:   You know?

Randy:  Yeah.

Carmen:  So he’s clearly ex-military.  I mean, he’s just got the whole …

Randy:  Sure.  You can spot it, yeah.

Carmen:  You can just tell.  You can pick ‘em.  You can spot ‘em.

Randy:  Yeah.

Carmen:  He comes over, and he looks at me, watches me doing this for awhile, and he goes, “What are you doing [laughing]?”  I said, “Well …”

Randy:  [laughs] The lady over there.

Carmen:  Lady over there.  Your [inaudible 00:06:54] said, uh, I gotta squeeze this one ounce from this bottle into this bottle, and then I gotta go through security again”, and he looks at it dumbfounded for a minute, and he looks at me, and he goes, “I would of just let you through.”

Randy:  Yeah.

Carmen:  And I thought, yeah, so then …

Randy:  You’re, you’re …

Carmen:  There’s two lines.  There’s two lines, so I go and get back in her line.

Randy:  Sure.  You gotta do it.

Carmen:  I kid you not, as I’m coming through her line, she goes over to the other line and asks the person over there to switch lines with her.  She wouldn’t stay to face me.

Randy:  Well …

Carmen:  ‘Cause she knew how wrong she was.

Randy:  You’re … well, yeah, you can be intimidating too.  I can tell you that.

Carmen:  Wow!

Randy:  And she was amazing.  Hats off to, uh, Alaska and San Antonio.  Uh, hats off, frankly, to the, to the United Club in San Antonio.  That was …

Carmen:  I was polite [laughing] the whole time.

Randy:  I can see you being polite.

Carmen:  I was polite.

Randy:   With your make my day eyes, yeah.  I …

Carmen:  I was just … there’s … I had a look.

Randy:   Uh-huh.

Carmen:  My teacher look.  I put on my teacher look for that.

Randy:  Oh, I don’t like that [laughing].  That, that look is a frightening look.

Carmen:  Anyway, that’s just stupid.  That’s just a …

Randy:   Back to the point though.  The point was here is this person …

Carmen:  A drunk with power moment.

Randy:  Who, who was obviously drunk with power.

Carmen:  Mm-hmm.

Randy:  It’s a, it’s a bad thing, so we talk about positional power.  One of the first things we want you to do is to realize [00:08:00] that it’s happening everywhere.  I mean, when you walk into a restaurant, the maitre d’ at the restaurant is in a place of positional power.  You’re going to be seated where he or she wants to seat you when he or she wants to seat you.  You’re kind of at their mercy, uh, by virtue of that little sign that says ‘please wait to be seated’, you know.  You’re, you’re kind of in a holding pattern there.

Carmen:  And they decide where too.

Randy:  Exactly, so positional power exists everywhere, the teller at the bank, the person who’s the, the bus driver.  Positional power happens all the time, and I think the best metaphor I can come up with for understanding positional power, for me, is the lifeguard.

Carmen:  Mm.

Randy:  As kids, most of went to pools, and there was always the cool lifeguard, and there was the jerk lifeguard.  I could always tell by the way they twirled their whistle [laughing], you know?  They had the whistle twirl [whistle sounds], and you could tell.  Either they were kind of, uh, you know, real [D-bag 00:08:54] kind of people or they were, you know, cool.  You could tell.  If it was a, if it was kind of loosey-goosey twirl, it was like, okay, there you go.  Uh, but, but this lifeguard kind of thing means, you know, you’ve got control and responsibility.  I mean, truly, these people are there to protect and save people’s lives.

Carmen:   Mm-hmm.

Randy:  Um, so obviously, we do need to follow some rules, but it’s the way that it happens.  Same thing with TSA.  They’re doing important work, I trust, and, you know, it’s about the way we’re doing it.

Carmen:   Mm-hmm.

Randy:  So recognize the positional power that you’re in, but don’t sell your soul for it.  I mean, recognize that, uh, that you’re going to get far more compliance, uh, from people if you are able to work with them and manage the reasonableness of situations instead of this kind of, uh, ridiculous, uh, ownership of positional power.  It’s one of the things I think that separates potentially great leaders …

Carmen:  Mm-hmm.

Randy:  From bad managers.  I mean, it’s the first place.  Uh, there was a, a person who was the chief of [Tualatin 00:09:53] Valley Fire and Rescue, one of the best fire and rescue departments in the country and, uh, they were asking him how [00:10:00] he has such good quality senior officers, and he says, “Well, I put them through a series of tests when they’re a first year fireman with us”, and somebody said, “Well, what is an example of a test?”

He said, “I give ‘em a corporate Visa card” [laughing].  He said, “If they’re goofballs, they will screw up using that corporate Visa card within 60 days”, you know?  “They’ll buy something they shouldn’t have.  They’ll falsify something”, and he goes, “The minute that that happens” …

Carmen:   Yeah.

Randy:  You know, they “there’s malfeasant use” …

Carmen:  Uh-huh.

Randy:  “Of their positional power”, and he knows they’re never gonna …

Carmen:  Right away.

Randy:  Yeah.

Carmen:  Yeah.

Randy:  He knows right away.

Carmen:  Huh.

Randy:  I think it’s just great, and the reason, incidentally, they have those Visa cards is so that when they’re putting out somebody’s house on fire and they happen to break the door lock getting in to put out the house on fire, that they can actually go, and they do this …

Carmen:  Mm-hmm.

Randy:  They drive to the hardware store, buy another lock …

Carmen:  Get a lock and fix it.

Randy:  And fix it for ‘em so they …

Carmen:  Yeah.

Randy:  Can at least have a locked door that night when they …

Carmen:  That’s cool

Randy:  Yeah.  Yeah.  Amazing.

Carmen:  All right, so be a good lifeguard.

Randy:  Be a good lifeguard.

Carmen:  Don’t abuse your positional power.

Randy:   Practice gentle whistle twirling [laughing].  Only a fan of this podcast would understand what that means at this point [laughing].

Carmen:  [Yes 00:11:12], they’ll never forget it.

Randy:   [laughs] They’ll never forget it.  Twirl your whistle correctly.

Carmen:  That’s right, and please join us next time on the Evolutionaries podcast.

[Music] [00:11:46]