The Other Side of Leadership

Person using fountain pen

I had the distinct pleasure of playing one of my favorite roles recently — Devil’s Advocate —  to a post written by our own Christina and Marie (which can be found here).  The best way to convey my message was with a brief(ish) letter….

Dear Christina and Marie

As you both know I hate to deliver bad news, but it’s finally time. There is no Santa Claus, Easter Bunny or Team Unicorn that will be joining you in your meetings.

The points you mention in your post are lovely and, of course, completely workable. And I’m sitting in a chair made of Skittles.

You two are spot on with a number of them, though.  Some of the others…well…maybe not “spot” on.  Let’s take a look 🙂

Public advocacy of the team – Totally. Though that’s not always possible. Imagine the coach of a sports team in a press conference after the team lost to an objectively inferior team. That’s where coach says “we did our best” and it’s either spin (lie) or if that is their best really then something gone horribly amiss.

Knowing each member of the team – Definite winner here. Unfortunately with knowledge comes responsibility. Coach knows Bob is horrible at bat when it’s overcast and guess what – it’s overcast, the game is tied and it’s the ninth inning. Something’s gotta give. Coach has to make a decision for the team, not Bob – even if that means kicking Bob in the shin so he’s injured.

OK, that example’s a bit much, but sometimes team members need to be redirected – frequently for their own good and for the good of the team. To say that’s tricky, particularly in a team environment when you’re with the same people all day, every day, (not to mention all week and every week) is an understatement at best.

Motivation – What a horrible horrible word. One man’s riches is another man’s….well, you know the rest. There’s a few reasons this one’s so tough. I’ll try to be brief (and there are likely even more extreme examples/issues than the ones I’ve encountered):

• Not every team (at least in a corporate setting) knows what other parts of the team are doing. The communications field is a perfect example – how often are advertising, marketing and PR (not to mention investor relations) not on the same page? That’s not even taking into consideration product development, legal, compliance, etc. Ignoring personal differences (which can be more complex than corporate) each of those departments have different motivations and react to different things and things differently. Then there’s the personality issues – some work best under stress (raising hand) while others need to plan for three weeks before writing two sentences.

• As bizarre as it may seem, Doomsday scenarios work for some. A classmate of mine once got caught cheating on an exam. There was a strict no tolerance policy at the school so it was pretty much the definition of hopeless. He still sat there and finished the exam without his crib sheet. Lots would’ve wept, put their heads down on their desks, stayed in restroom for rest of the period, etc. He was still a bit of a tool, but there was little doubt he had a pair of brass ones after that. For more historical examples consider Nathan Hale (who was all of 21 when he died), anyone burned at a stake (literally), the crusades, etc.. Some people stand up in the face of certain doom, give it the finger, and keep on walking even though there’s no hope for them to reach the finish line.

• Trying to combine all of this in the best of circumstances is difficult. When the gears come undone, however, the leader is in a tough position. Not only does she need to fix what’s gone wrong (because she’s got to report to someone else higher up the food chain as well), but at the same time try to get the team back on track. Doing that with each team member is time consuming and can send inconsistent messages. Sometimes rather than opening up the watch and fixing the individual pieces you’ve just gotta shake it and hope things fall back into place, which they frequently do. I do think this is why cars stop making that funny noise when you take them to be repaired.

• Pointing the finger’s a tough one. Mostly right here as well (maybe that unicorn can audit the meeting). If it becomes necessary to address an issue that’s common to the group – whether that’s not hydrating properly before a game or learning how to use the fax machine – and it’s inspired by a specific example, for example a fax machine error that shut down the office for a day, to not mention it is a) ridiculous because everyone already knows and it’s a “lady doth protest too much” situation b) it provides a concrete example of why the discussion is actually needed.  Too often people think information/tips don’t apply to them (like those safety videos and demonstrations on airplanes).

I’m sure our gallery have faced their own issues when it comes to dealing and/or being a leader and have great insight to include and I invite them to :).  Until then, forget what I said about Santa and Bunny – they do exist…that Unicorn though – we had to let him go.


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