Looking for leadership

Leadership is the search for a porcupine. In the dark. Naked.

It’s feeling exposed and brave at once. It’s knowing others are depending on my sure wit, guidance and decisions and not letting on that pressure gets at you . It’s walking in with an answer every time and having the backbone to support what I say. It’s accepting that I may be the last line of defense and often there is no one to protect my flank.

So how do I get there?

I consult books, blogs, TED videos and pricey all-day seminars with crap coffee and thick as thieves with academia trying to convince you to lead like they all do. Preferably from their book or follow-up seminar. I scour text-heavy Keynotes full of proven techniques and ideological manifestos that show us the tactics, skills and strategies to manipulate human behavior with human behavioral modification slights of hand.

My experience with these is that they are linear and temporal. They have a required call and response to unfold as described. They are hard to enact once you are actually dealing with people and dynamism is required. The unpredictable nature and irritating freewill exhibited by individuals makes them harder to read than stated in their manuals. For me, not willing to be bent around some fixed maxim of leadership or to deploy a tactic, or practice active listening or use some convention of leadership– Those never came naturally to me. They felt like workshop activities and not real human responses. They felt like lines from a play.

I’m not even sure I even meant to find myself in a leadership role. I think when I had visions of grandeur as a Creative Director or Senior this or that earlier on, I wanted to be a figure of authority. I wanted to direct people to make a thing of my design and then tell them how to make it better and my brilliant ideas would be the shine on the shoe. It was a selfish mission of vanity and a search for validation. I didn’t see the big picture of what those roles really needed to do, what they needed to be.

In October of this year I accepted a new position at a new company in a new industry. Big changes and new things to learn. Good decision. Change is a great motivator of creativity.

I knew coming in I would be expected to build new teams. To lead new efforts and bring something procedural and cultural that was from my previous experience and apply to my new role. So I really gave thought to how to approach leadership and not just let it happen. When I examined what had impacted me in life and on the job, I uncovered that you earn trust and you earn ire in much the same way.

So this is where I found my answers about leadership: I thought about those I had reported to throughout my career.

The ones that were commanders and authoritative operated on fear and policy. Fear is not respect and those results are only surface. Policy adherence is a lowest common denominator measure of performance and doesn’t measure imagination or guts to move the team forward. Everyone winds up fending for themselves. They end up having no enriching value for any party and the work done is to meet expectation, not to feed the growth of the persons doing it. As a “manager” you get a return of just good enough to avoid confrontation. This is pretty standard manager fare. Hit the marks, keep the canoe steady as we cruise into the holiday break.

Now those that led by example in their virtue with both decisive strength and appreciative humility were the ones that got more out of people by letting them make demands of themselves. Those were the people I had sought to be like and in doing so I built the habits of leadership. The habits they had almost certainly learned from their mentors and predecessors in the Spring of their careers. The personalities that ask more of themselves are the future leaders, they reveal themselves. We can’t cure and carve them. They have to happen naturally.

That’s what happened to me. It wasn’t a grand plan or a ladder climb. It was just being around good people that showed me working hard meant working hard to be a part of the solution. It meant being brave/dumb/stubborn enough to lay out answers and ideas not knowing if they would fix or fail. It meant if you told someone you would do something, you did it. It meant earning the respect through doing the time.n

Own your $hit. Share your victories and claim your mistakes. Period.
People are good, they are smart, they want to excel. Let them do so by doing the same so they can emulate good leadership. The laggards will drop off when “working for it” enters the equation. Act like a leader.