Not another post about Leadership

Not another blog post about Leadership. Is there anything left to write? How to be a better Leader. The 10 habits of an excellent Leader. What a great Leader eats for breakfast. 

Why is it such an enduring topic? Maybe because its so bloody hard to get right.  Maybe because so many 'leaders' are wandering about day to day trying their best, but mostly making this stuff up as they go along. Making mistakes, learning the hard way. Being assessed by an endless parade of Organisational Development types bringing in consultants with an unintelligible acronym for a name. Being told they need to have more IQ, more EQ, more MI. Do you ever stop to think, "What BS!" ? 

Honestly, more often than not, Leadership is an art not a science. It's a continual exploration of embarrassment and mistake-making. Of trial and error. Of being unintentionally pissed off and unintentionally pissing people off. Of pretending you know what you're doing, whilst trying to figure out how to help others figure out what to do. 

A little while ago one of my team who was in a new leadership role themselves came to me and apologised. "I was horrible wasn't I?" They said. "I had no idea how hard this managing people thing is, and I held you to such high standards. I'm really sorry - I must have been a complete pain in the arse.". We agreed that indeed, he had been, but that was OK. We're all just figuring this stuff out as we go. 

What we didn't talk about is that leadership is a continuum. From 4am sitting bolt upright in bed sweating about how to help someone through a hard patch, to the 4am post-awards party G&T fuelled love-in where you sit back and think how chuffing marvellous these people you have working for you are (who am I kidding? it's more like 12.30am). 

I left my role leading a largeish team in our business last week to transition to a new role in the same organisation. Different role, different type of leadership. New mistakes to make, new embarrassments to encounter. And, exciting as my new role is, and hard as my old role has been at times, its a bitter-sweet move because I'm really, really, really going to miss the people I've been lucky enough to lead. The 'leaving' gifts they gave me ranged from the funny (Worst Case Scenario Handbook) to the thoughtful (scratch-off map of world for my new European job) and the necessary (3 litres of Gin). But there was one that floored me and reduced me to (my now famed) tears. They had each thought of a word to describe me, combined them into a beautiful print and framed it. 

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Seeing the way the people you lead & love view you played back like that is humbling. I'm under no illusions that the more choice words we all mutter about our boss from time to time deliberately didn't make the cut, but, honestly, I had no idea that the words they used were even in their frame of reference when asked to think about me. 

Given how much time and money people in leadership roles spend beating themselves up, reading bible after bible on how to get it right and being offered 'helpful' assessments of what they should be doing by people who aren't doing it, to be told you've done an OK job by the people who really matter is priceless. Honestly, Covey and Welch and Blanchard can go jump. 

And I'm going to say here that women leaders have it harder in my opinion. We are expected culturally to be nurturing, caring, warm, maternal. Leadership mythology demands that a leader be tough, dynamic, fearless. Tough, dynamic, fearless women get called bitches. We almost expect to have to help our male leaders with stuff like engagement and EQ, whereas if a female leader doesn't always get that right, she's not a leader. Too nice and she won't be taken seriously, not nice enough and she's too cold. I never met a male executive who was criticised for a lack of warmth (in fact Steve Jobs was famed for it) but I can reel off a list of females in senior roles that I've heard that criticism levelled at. Again, BS. 

Anyhow, I digress, leadership is not easy. Its a perpetual evolution of self-discovery and self-restraint, enlightenment and confusion. Like Buddhism but with fewer moments of solitude and less comfortable clothes. If you are in a leadership role and you like your team, they like you and they occasionally tell you you're doing it right, you've won. Put down the airport book. Go and grab a coffee with them and ask them how you can carry on getting it right. 

PS. To the team I love that I'm leaving - here are just a few words that I'd use to describe you:




Funny. Creative. Under-estimated. Loyal. Tenacious. Resilient. Talented. Doggy Day-Care. Passionate. Smart. Grafters. Starbucks. Ticking-my-boxes. Resourceful. Spirited. Challenging. Competitive. Valued. Cake. Friends. Leaders. Rock Stars.