I always find that many people, mistakenly, asume for a fact that the central characteristic of leadership is having the power to tell other people what to do and when to do it (even if that may happen at some point as part of the whole decision process). This is clearly a common confusion. And an idea about the characteristics of the role which is, very often, held by people who probably should either freshen-up their views, or reconsider being in positions of leadership.
And this is as much an issue for those people pushed into holding decision making positions when they are not suitable for them, as much as a problem related to the person or persons who put them there in the first place.
Leadership is not a natural progression in our career, or a position to be filled, or our chance to tell people off.
Leadership is a choice we make, and which often others offer us, based on our personal qualities and strengths. Much like any other career choice, it is an option which only those with the gift and qualities necessaries to be leaders may successfully engage. Unsuccessful leadership roles may not only damage a person´s career, they may also be very detrimental to an organization´s future.
Despite what others may think, or what other people may offer us, the fact is that there is nothing wrong with not taking a position of leadership if that is not what we want to do, or if we truly feel such a responsibility is not for us.
More often than not we feel obligated to take on the mantle of management as a logical step in the corporate ladder. And it takes a great deal of honesty to asses internally if a leadership role is really for us. We have been taught that successful people get to lead, and so leadership becomes synonymous with success. And while it is partially true, it may not always be so.
It is tempting. Obviously there is usually more money, more “power”, and very often a better office among all the benefits that come with the job. Leadership saves us as well, sometimes, from that part of our old jobs that used to be too repetitive or tedious. But with that comes responsibility.
I believe that the “core business” of leadership is giving those under our responsibility the space, the protection, the freedom, and the encouragement to think for themselves, to do their job in the best possible way, to help them learn from their mistakes, to take them successfully through the thought process behind decision making, to set them reasonable and clear parameters so they can be efficient, to promote common responsibilities, to make them think about “us” rather than “me”, to allow them to exploit their strengths -which is always good for morale- while helping them to deal with their weaknesses and thus improving overall results, and to make them strong but caring so, some day, some of them are able to replace us, and do and even better job than us. And that is not something that everyone can, or wants to do.
In the cases where I have had to manage larger groups of people, I have always tried to be, not only an open door manager, but I purposely have tried to actively engage each one to see how they were so as to promote honest communication, and have very often gone to see each person at their desk -rather than having them come to see me- when things did not seem right, while trying to put into context what is happening at the office (which many times, even if affecting the work environment, has nothing to do with the work and has to do with other issues outside the office).
While not having had a strong experience in matrixed organizations (at least in the formal sense), my experience has always being in organizations where limitations forced us, in practice, to carry more than one hat and have cross functional obligations and reporting.
At the same time, I have had to deal with organizations which were sometimes in flux, or needed a formal shake-up, or needed to go through deep restructuring and policy changes. And I have carried those transformations, which sometimes may have been quite traumatic, with my deepest commitment and honesty.
Did I make mistakes? Sure. Could I have done things differently in specific cases and/or at some point in my career? You bet! Do I have second thoughts about having accepted positions of leadership? No. It is something I am comfortable with, I enjoy it. I like nurturing, I like showing the way and I feel proud when others do well, and hopefully do better than how I did.
That and taking responsibility. Generally speaking, if we truly believe in our capacities as leaders, then our attitude should also be, as close as possible, to an old fashioned “the bucket stops here”. In other words, whenever we have to propose -or carry out- substantial changes that may be against traditional views or processes, we need to work in constant communication with our team. Final responsibility for errors of vision should normally assumed by the leadership (towards the hierarchy), while good results should be shared by the whole team.
I guess I have largely spent the last 20 years in Argentina, so it is fair to say that I have mostly worked for organizations or companies that, at some point or another (or most of the time), suffered financial limitations and obvious time restrictions (in Argentina everybody wants everything done by “yesterday”).
So when I hear complaints about budget constraints for meeting basic standards, or doing the job you set out to do in the most proper and efficient manner, I always reply that it is not a matter of money. It is, instead, a matter of commitment, of taking ownership of the specific issue, project or problem, and thus resolving it in the most efficient way.
That requires creativity, lateral thinking, reinforcement of trust and understanding of group dynamics, as well as a lot of calm. In other words, it requires real leadership qualities.
If results and success were only the realm of those with time and money instead of personal traits, then Albert Einstein working as a simple clerk at a Patent office for a meager salary, Gates or Jobs struggling in a garage, or Oprah being kicked out of TV as a young reporter for being considered “unfit for television news”, would have meant the end of their careers.
So you need to ask yourself if this is what you want to do. If you do, and you believe in yourself, then be humble, learn from others, listen, never close the door, and enjoy the ride together with those that you been given the responsibility to lead.
Until next time
©2018 by Ignacio Alperin Bruvera
Ignacio Alperin Art