The Challenges of Leadership


I once grew a company from one employee (me) to over 42 employees. Full-time, part-time, interns, the whole bunch personally hired by me. Each one paid above the average, with profit sharing, insurance, a great work environment, challenging and interesting work, great people, superior community... it was an awesome place to work. And always my door remained open. Everyone knew they could speak up at any time, take on any challenge, pitch in wherever needed, or simply walk right in to my office and rip me a new one.

It was always surprising to me how few people did that. Or how, sometimes, I would hear that some of the employees were afraid to do so. The truly amazing thing is just how often someone can harbor feelings that could be easily dealt with if only they would speak up about them and let someone else know. But they don't. They let them fester. Humans are strange creatures. But I often have interesting conversations with them.

I can't begin to tell you how many books, seminars, TED talks, and leadership conferences I've attended. And while many of those experiences taught me something, most of them are complete and utter bullshit. The truth is that common sense, empathy, and experience are the only things that truly matter when it comes to herding humans. Balance is the key ingredient. Maintaining a proper balance between being understanding and hard is extremely difficult. As much as people say they want a leader that understands them, they don't really mean it. And as much as other people say they hate the tough leader, they also don't really mean it. People tend to want what they don't have. This is the truth about people in general.

The same holds true in Eve. As a leader of anything, a CEO, or an FC, or whatever, you are screwed in so many ways it can make your head spin. You can't make all the people happy all the time. And here is the advice that very few people will tell you, don't try to make anyone happy. You will fail. Making one person happy will only piss someone else off. The only thing you can control is yourself. In all things be true to yourself first and foremost. Not in a selfish self-centered way, but in your principles. Be a rock. Whatever kind of rock you happen to be, be that rock. All the time. People respect rocks, they depend on dependability, predictability and direction. Don't try to be what you are not. Be who you are. Even if you happen to be an asshole. Be a great asshole. (And maybe get some therapy, cause seriously dude, the world needs less assholes.)

Being consistent is critical. And this is not to downplay the other elements of leadership, only to place the focus where it needs to be. It is important to be understanding, to have empathy, to have a direction in mind. And mostly it is important to communicate those frequently and often, over and over and over again. If you ever think to yourself, "I'm sure they all get it now", they don't. Tell them again. Trust me.

Being a leader is incredibly rewarding. It is also insanely confusing, frustrating, and often complicated. This is what you asked for when you stepped up to the plate. It comes with the territory. People are counting on you.

The secret is that you control nothing. What you have created controls you. Always remember that and use it to your advantage. Direct the current, guide the flow, but never try to stand in its way. You will get railroaded. And then you'll get frustrated. And then you'll throw your hands up in defeat and wander off into a corner somewhere to cry like a baby.

"Let's go that way." Just be damned sure you know what you are doing when you get there.



7 comments:

  1. My boss leads by example. What he wants us all to do, he is the first to do it. He is very consistent in that manner. He walks the walk, etc.

    However.

    His leadership/management style breeds fear.

    Staff are afraid of him. We all respect his abilities in our core business - there is no doubt that he is effective, solid, and professional. But his style of managing staff (yes I know I am mixing leadership and management here, but when your leader is also your manager they are very intertwined) is through fear. It can be very negative at times, when 20-odd folks are walking on eggshells to avoid the thunderstorm we can all see in his face.

    I've been in this branch office for 24 years, and I've had this leader/manager for the last 13 years or so. While I can certainly support the concept of "be the leader, don't try to make everyone happy, just be yourself", being a leader means not just leading the way but making sure that if you say "we go this way" and start off, that folks are actually going to follow you. Management through fear is closer to leadership through pushing from the rear, as opposed to being first through the breach having the staff want to follow you.

    As I look toward my last 8 years (or so) I find myself struggling to stay the course, simply due to the leadership issue. The imprint upward my boss has made has been part of a shift in both leadership and management styles in this firm. Many of us grey-hairs have commented to each other that this place isn't what it used to be. The eagerness, enthusiasm, and satisfaction we have left is derived from our individual clients, projects, and teams that we lead, not from the management that drive us.

    Be a leader, but never forget the value in your team comes from their unique talents and viewpoints, not from the viewpoints you assign them, nor the label you apply to them.

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    1. Extremely well said Knug. I could certainly talk about these challenges all day but fear is a negative and negativity breeds negativity, there is just no way around that. No matter where it comes from it is a sickness that infects everyone that comes into contact with it. If left unchecked it can sap all the energy from any operation, much like what you are the long-timers are experiencing.

      I'd say more than likely your bosses failings are truly the failings of those above him. If such people exist in your situation. While I led my company I always felt as if our clients and, to some degree, my staff was my boss. Without them I wouldn't have a company.

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  2. Good piece. What I look in a boss/leader is approachability. Can I come up to them and reach them? I'm not interested in how happy they are with me (though that doesn't hurt, I can tell ya), but how receptive they are to communication. Do you hear me and consider what I have to say? Are they real? That's what matters. Besides, playing traffic cop is not my idea of a fun job, but someone has to do it, so kudos.

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    1. I always try to keep in mind the "walk a mile in another man's shoes" and be as open as possible to ideas, thoughts, and opinions as I can be. It helps my line of work because you never know where the next great idea is going to come from. I've been told many times that I am to trusting and open with people, and while that may or may not be true, I have never once regretted it. Even when I've been hurt by some of them eventually.

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  3. When I shifted from being part time worker/part time boss to full time boss once the business had grown, there was a distinct shift in the way I was treated and perceived. This despite not having changed either my management style or myself in any way. It was unexpected and very odd.

    Over time, that division became even bigger when I appointed a very good 2IC. In part because he used me as the stick. I still covered shifts for people sick, on holiday or suffering some sort of crisis and so was never far from the coalface. But still, I was never quite one of the crew again after that point.

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    1. That doesn't surprise me. Once you've taken up that mantle of responsibility things are rarely ever the same again.

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    2. Yeah. The buck really does stop with you. 84+ hour week? Luxury....

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