How to get over the feeling of powerlessness

At some point in time in our lives, it is but natural that we feel powerless. This often happens in our office, when we are faced with several situations where our role is just limited to doing something, within a framework. Sometimes, it also happens that we face this situation in our families too. The intricacies of these situations is described with reference to two case studies, both of which are real. The lessons associated with these cases are also discussed in some detail.


When we are faced with sadistic, autocratic bosses, who only respect the yes men and treat the talented like doormats, we feel powerless. We have only two choices: a) put up with whatever is going on and compromise b) quit and spill the beans, when the situation so arises, so that at least others who work in the same organization can breathe easy. The first is what is called compromise in the short term or long term. The second is a more dynamic approach. Whatever be the situation, it is always possible to understand either of the two choices. However, in the modern days, around ninety-eight persons will follow the second choice and keep going on. Some specific lessons are a) compromise till the situation is ripe b) jump for the better role(s) and not merely salary c) Be frank in the exit interview or spill beans openly d) make others understand the scope outside and get them to move.

The aforesaid lessons are explained through two case studies. Both are one hundred real-world case studies. The names are changed. The organization's name cannot be mentioned, to maintain confidentiality. All lessons come out loud and clear from the two case studies.

Case study one

In the first case-study, Suresh, a brilliant young engineer, posted as an engineer trainee with a leading auto ancillary organization, had a horrible boss, Kuppuraj, who would suck his blood but publicize all work as his (that is, the boss) own. The poor subordinate would go to the shop floor, collect all data and prepare the full case studies. At this point in time, the young man had some family problems. It later transpired that it was related to the health of someone in his family. Every single person who met him was stumped that this young man, who has confirmed within six months, waited a full eighteen months, to jump,

Why did he support his horrible boss, who was a confirmed bully? Since this boss had somehow convinced the big boss that he was a hard taskmaster who could bark and get things done, the big boss supported him every single day. Every employee was afraid of the big boss and hence did not utter a single word about the nasty boss of the young man. This boss was left to organize the huge number of Total Quality Management (TQM) activities, to fall in line with the Deming Award specifications. The D day came and the entire team of young engineers (three others were deputed to support Suresh), simply carried the task forward and the organization won the Deming Award. Since he had done all the documentation, it was easy for Suresh to take down notes each day. When he faced an interview with a leading engineering organization in Malaysia, he was immediately selected, as he was able to present all his learning. The value addition, accumulated over a period of eighteen months, helped him to not only quit the organization but also show so many engineers that better opportunities were available for those with talent. Not a single day passed without some value addition from Suresh. Hence, every single person in the organization was always indebted towards Suresh.

Suresh jumped to a far better role. He was also asked to do the TQM activities in another factory in Europe. His career was assured. However, during the exit interview, he did manage to point out all the shortcomings of Kuppusamy. After a while, when he was found wanting, Kuppusamy was transferred to a very small role and was literally shown his place. Not surprisingly, many celebrated his exit from the Quality Assurance Department.

Very soon, three more young engineers, who learned all the skills from Suresh, joined better organizations like the Larsen and Toubro and the Aditya Birla group. They were not exactly under horrible bosses but did feel lost in the ocean of non-value adding responsibilities on the shop floor. It is a sad part of life that at least fifty per cent of employees choose the first alternative, more so, as they have family problems.

Case study two

This case study pertains to another division of the same organization. The boss. Gurumurthy was once again a problem. He was designated Vice President (HR) but did nothing in HR. The entire range of HR activities was carried through and executed on any single day, by one Venkat, a much younger professional. Venkat chose the first alternative and resigned to the feeling of powerlessness. He would silently do the work and manage to hear all the nonsense from Gurumurthy.

However, there was another manager, in a slightly higher grade. This gentleman, Muthu, was a brilliant Industrial Relations professional. This issue was the main problem. The great Gurumurthy saw him as a perfect threat. He would never encourage Muthu to even have the first level talks with the trade union representatives, as part of the bipartite settlement. Muthu was always given inconsequential and non-value adding activities, like overseeing the activities of the Co-operative stores for workmen.

After 24 months, Muthu quit the organization in a huff. He did not even have a job. However, since he was an advocate and had some experience of representing his previous companies in the labour court and such other matters, he started a small consultancy in which he offered legal services to small-scale organizations. Since these organizations do not, as a rule, employ full-time personnel, Muthu was able to find his feet.

However, the most important service that he did to the company was that he spilled the beans. He wrote a detailed handwritten note to the HR chief in the headquarters and also marked a copy thereof to six very senior people. The organization's Top Management sat up and took notice. A huge investigation was put in place, and the findings shocked them. All the while, Gurumurthy had managed the show by hiding his weaknesses and his horrible record in industrial relations, only because he had a big Godfather in one Krishnan, his own cousin and the big boss of the organization. He managed to push everything under the carpet with the help of his horrible yes men too.

However, since everything was out in the open, many managers confided in the Top Management's representative, who got a very accurate report of all that went wrong. Gurumurthy was cut to size. He was made to sit in a corner and do all the helping to his successor, Mr Vijay, who started from scratch but learned the dynamics very quickly. He had the advantage of learning everything about the misdeeds of Gurumurthy, and this helped too. After a couple of years, Gurumurthy, who went around doing nothing, himself voluntarily retired. He was virtually sent out with a very bad name. None respected him when he finally called it a day. Management was happy too.

The most important lesson from the two case studies is this: when we are sure of our own potential, we need not feel powerless. Today, the opportunities are worldwide, and the ability to stay on in a single organization is almost zero. The value addition and the nature of responsibilities keep on changing in different organizations, and it is vital that we learn the tricks of the trade.


The feeling of powerlessness is a real problem for any of us. We need to understand the dynamics of any situation and do the needful. When we are faced with some tricky family issues, we tend to mix the official with the personal and then the real problem becomes very acute. This need not, and should not, happen. The family problems need a totally different treatment and approach. The feeling of powerless in office and in jobs is real. We need to get over this, with some really good strategic moves, as shown in the two case studies.

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Author: DR.N.V. Srinivasa Rao11 Oct 2018 Member Level: Platinum   Points : 4

It happens in many organizations. Hardworking people will be used for important works but when the appreciation comes it will go to the yes men of the big boss. There are plenty of cases I have seen. It is unfortunate that even in private organizations, where work only has to count, this type of incidents happens. It will be very disgusting for the people who are working hard and they will definitely feel that they are powerless and they will also feel that their hard work is not recognized. That will give a restless feeling to the individual. Continuing under those conditions may not be good for the individual. I remember a good word of my senior in my first assignment, "hit out or get out".

Author: Umesh12 Oct 2018 Member Level: Platinum   Points : 6

The practical world is totally different than the theory. What we learn in schools and colleges is one thing but what people use in their professional lives is sometimes an entirely different technique to survive in the business world or professional line.

So when we enter a job after completing our education and face the peer pressure and see the obvious competition everywhere then sometimes the feeling of - I am not able to manage it- automatically comes in the mind and one finds himself as helpless in that situation.

This is not due to the individual trait but basically an offshoot of our work culture and organizational environment. One may be hardworking and dedicated but due to the inherent politics involved in the offices and workplaces his efforts might get ignored and the feeling of helplessness is going to be generated.

We cannot fight with the system and win, we can only adapt ourselves to the system and try to climb the path of success as other successful professionals are doing.

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