Vacation ready?

Start acting like a leader

It seems every few weeks someone posts a boss vs. leader poster on LinkedIn or Facebook. They are all pretty similar; bosses depend on authority, inspire fear, place blame, take credit, give commands while leaders depend on goodwill, generate enthusiasm, fix problems, give credit, and ask questions. Basically, bosses are the wicked witches and leaders are made of glitter and sunshine.

These posters make the good vs evil message clear, but why does it matter? Some may argue that being a boss isn’t all that bad. Sometimes it takes a witch to really get sh*t done. I have in fact worked at a company where the President made it clear on multiple occasions that Project Managers would not be needed if people would “just do their jobs.” He would bark orders at people and kick people out of meetings for asking questions. Managers were fired if they weren’t bosses – full on, scary, a-hole, bosses.

Most of the time, the boss-type attitude is not revered. Rather, management is supposed to act like leaders. However, being a leader takes time, lots and lots of time. Leading means investing in and coaching others that are worth your time and energy. Leading means there will be days, maybe weeks, when you work with someone, side-by-side, for hours, so that next time they can go it alone. You may have to do your own work after everyone else has gone home. Leading means there will be times you will find someone is not as capable as the team needs and you have to make the tough decision to let them go even though you will now have more late nights pouring over resumes to find a replacement. Leading means taking as long as necessary to explain the strategy behind the new initiative until the team totally gets it and is fired up to work on it even if it feels like you’ve answered the same questions multiple times.

There are thousands of other examples, but what I’m trying to get at, is that leadership is full of unplann-able stuff. Training takes as long as it takes. Hiring takes as long as it takes. Motivating takes as long as it takes. The people who have the patience to stick with this stuff and the empathy to see when others are with them to the end are the natural leaders. But why? Aside from just wanting to be a nice person, why invest all this time? It really can seem quicker and more efficient to just tell people what to do and have them do it.

In my experience, the boss style of commanding staff can work to get stuff done, but it is not self sustaining nor does it lead to staff development. When people need orders to know how to do their job, they lack the skills to make decisions on their own or work autonomously. Innovation and creativity generally don’t occur because staff are rarely given orders that award such behaviors. Only tasks the boss thought of are accepted and praised. The worst part, when the boss is unavailable, and work dries up, people are afraid to do anything. People are so scared of doing the wrong thing, that they end up doing nothing.

There is a scene in one of my favorite movies that highlights this very well. In the movie, The Fifth Element, the Mangalores are the ogre like thugs that shoot up the space-yacht. To defeat them, they only have to kill the “leader”. Once they do that, the rest of the Mangalores wander around with no idea what to do. Imagine if the Mangalore leader had actually coached even one other dude! It would have been a totally different movie.

If my life were a movie, it would probably be a pretty boring one… There would be lots of one-on-one conversations, lots of team discussions, retrospectives and project kick-offs. All this time consuming stuff probably sounds more like the Gilmore Girls and less like an action packed sci-fi movie, but I actually think it is somewhere in between. Crises do happen at work, and all the discussions in between build the trust to help people up speak honestly and solve problems together. During these discussions staff are learning what goes into the decision making process. They are learning about the company strategy and corporate goals. They are being taught how their individual strengths align with what we need to get done right now, tomorrow, and the next day. The coaching and leadership allows managers to go on vacation, turn off their phone, and feel confident their staff can handle things.

In a nutshell, a leader’s army can continue marching even if the leader falls. A boss’s army stops dead in their tracks as soon as the boss falls. I want my army to know how to carry on.


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