There are tons of books out on leadership styles, being effective leaders. Just like anything else in Western culture, the push to be in charge is often driven by the prestige that comes with leadership, as opposed to its responsibilities. Sometimes folks in leadership just have to make some decisions that the rank and file may not like, but are necessary to get things done.
It’s no secret on the blog that my 9-5 is at a non profit. As such, there are many times I can say confidently that I like most of what I do – except for the organizational and operations philosophies that are being used on the job. But I am often reminded that there is a good chance that if I were in the shoes of management, I probably would make some of the same decisions that they have, down on to the highly unpopular ones.
Two situations last week reminded me that being in management isn’t really for everyone. My coworker is a very capable woman, but there was a mix up between us that may have put a serious strain on our working relationship and friendship off the clock. She felt slighted in the fact that I didn’t ask for her assistance to present a workshop, and felt even more so because I asked others who clearly were not as good as her to deliver the material. I tried to explain to her that the other factors surrounding the needs of the project had caused me to ask other people to assist instead. As the mix-up unfolded, I found myself in a situation as the project manager feeling the need to explain much of the back-story to assuage her feelings for a task that I didn’t ask her direct assistance for. Simply put, there was other stuff where I felt her input was more valuable and as such, asked her to assist me there instead. While some of it got out in the open, I have a feeling that those feelings could linger on both sides for a while.
Also, I was in the midst of a supervision meeting, embroiled in a conversation where my boss came off as more apparent to express her thoughts as opposed to use it as an actual teaching moment. Basically it felt like she was chewing me out in a backhanded way – you know one of those ones where you’ve just got to sit there and dealt with it almost. So I did what any annoyed person would do in the moment when she asked me how she could assist me: throw her the task to do that she just chewed me out on. Of course she was a bit annoyed but, hey, we all do some gamesmanship stuff whenever our feathers get ruffled.
No one likes to have their skill set questioned openly. Still, in trying to put the stress-filled work week to bed last Saturday I realized that it was necessary to take a look at my leadership style to see how I could improve. Now, our culture is notorious for not only pushing the glamour of leadership, but it also touts one leadership style as the route to fame and glory. You know what I mean: you must be that tough, bull-by-the-horn go-getter maverick – the MacGyver problem-solving skills + Dirty Harry grist and muscle to force your ideas through. Yes, Type-A leadership is so revered here that if that’s not the style you are using, expect to be steamrolled by the other leaders who encounter.
But, we cannot always lead like that. Too many times I’ve seen the Type A style walk into a situation and get things done solely out of fear, when a steadier teaching type had would have moved mountains. Yes, there are times when a swift kick in the butt is needed, but cracking the whip all the time will lead to muscle fatigue and either a revolt or ambivalence by the followers. This is why the elders have mentioned to me ad nauseam the hallmarks of a true leader are knowing when to encourage, when to act, when to teach, when to preach and when to follow.
The retired chess expert takes this one step further, always harped on the idea of family here: imagine that you are the leader, the one with the plan to achieve the goal of winning the game. Each piece serves an important roll, and the good players are often the ones who put their pieces in the most optimal positions, following together seamlessly like a well oiled machine that allows success to be achieved.
Now management isn’t for everyone. Some of us are in it by default – sometimes we learn to swim with it, and sometimes it is the anchor that dooms us to drown. Still, it is the ability of those who can put people in the best positions to be successful and to feel like their part is a worthy contribution that keeps people productive, even in the most difficult of circumstance.
I took away from my introspection was that I should have been clearer with my coworker on what I wanted without having to feel like I needed to explain myself. I took away from my supervisor that proving a point can lead to more work to be done by management. There are always dirty jobs that someone has to get done, but never lose the people who you work with just because you’re in a position to call the shots.