27 February 2011

The King is Dead! Long Live the King!

"... we choked 'em with those words. We've done the impossible, and that makes us mighty. Just a little while longer. Our angels are gonna be soaring overhead, raining fire..."

- Malcolm Reynolds, Firefly (pilot episode: Serenity)

Most people will recognize the title of this post from various period films/shows/theatrical productions because it is usually used by some background character to announce the death of a regent. Historically it was used less as an announcement of death and more to assert the continuation of the dynasty, i.e. though the current king is deceased, his heir stands ready to assume the mantle. Well, that is exactly what happened this week at work.

I will warn everyone that what follows may sound a bit arrogant, or worse self-important horn-tooting. I don't like that, but even with my grasp of the English language there was no way around it.

I'll not go into details about my employer, or all the specific grievances that the other employees and myself had with our boss. Suffice it to say that there was a serious lack of real leadership. The above quote perfectly reflects how the ball got rolling on the situation. The crew went to our boss' boss and poured out their problems. Our customers did the same. When the upper echelon finally had the information, I was told you could see the fires of rage in their eyes. There were, of course, policies/standards/procedures that had to be followed (they didn't just walk in and channel George Carlin saying "Get the FUCK OUT OF HERE!"), but once all the t's were crossed and lower case j's dotted the individual was terminated. Unlike the last time my direct superior had to be removed, I had little-to-nothing to do with it. Was it a mutiny? After a fashion, I suppose it was.

Now all of this would not have been possible if I had not said that I would assume the boss' duties. There is currently a dearth of qualified (read: trained and ready) individuals to take the job, so the reality was that either I reluctantly took over, or continued to suffer with the rest of my people. I guess I'm just a glutton for punishment.

I said above that the core root cause was a lack of real leadership. While I don't feel that I am the picture-perfect representation of such, I will go into what I feel are the simple rules for effectively leading a group of other human beings.

1. Put yourself last.

I was raised on the notion that the "officers eat last". This is not just a literal meal time rule, but an ideal for prioritizing your needs. Your people should always come first, even if you must starve yourself. This applies to your family, your job, and anywhere else you have a leadership role. Real leaders suffer so that their people may succeed.

2. Place trust and respect in your people, until such time as they breach that trust.

This is more a job-specific rule. Trust and respect should be earned in life, but in a situation such as being thrust into a leadership position with a new group of people you will have to throw out freebies. Whether your people respect you or not in return is an entirely different matter.

3. Never ask your subordinates to do anything you will not/have not do[ne] yourself first.

This is self-explanatory. If you're not willing to get into the trenches and get your hands dirty, how can you honestly expect anyone else to do it for you? This goes a long way towards building upon the trust you hand out from rule #2.

4. Maintain high expectations for your people, but hold yourself to a higher standard.

Personal accountability is something that I feel is lacking in today's society. That's not to say it is gone altogether, just misplaced. Push your people to do better, and often they will out of a sense of personal pride (this goes back to the blanket respect clause). Just remember, whatever standard you hold for them, your personal standard must be higher. You must set the example.

5. With great power comes great responsibility.

Channeling my inner geek here, Stan Lee's immortal words (like most universal truths) ring true in many situations, but most especially in leadership roles. You are not there to rule as a tyrant. At best you are a guide, showing people how to get the most out of themselves. Further, you must be willing to put yourself in harm's way to protect those under your command.

6. Maintain a friendly, but comfortable distance.

You may have to remove someone for the betterment of the group. Getting too close can cloud your judgment. Take a genuine interest in your people, sincerely care about their lives, but always keep in mind that the survival of the group as a whole must always be the primary concern. Objectivity is difficult to maintain, but paramount.

7. Know when it is time to step aside.

Going back to the title of this post: There always comes a time when the reins of leadership need to be passed on. Death/dismemberment/incarceration/retirement, these are just a few extreme examples. Suffice it to say that if at any time you feel you can not fulfill the above rules, get out and let someone else do it.

I am sure there are other things that could be said. There are enough books on the subject to fill an entire library. I prefer to keep it simple. I hope that it's enough to carry me through the coming weeks and months, or however long this position is entrusted to me.

Tune in next week for some off-kilter fun posting. Not sure exactly what, but nothing so serious as this.

Until then, keep your heads low everyone.

1 comment:

KJ said...

Job well done, brother. There is a gnarly book called "Cowboy Ethics: What Wall Street could learn from the Old West" I think you should check out. Does new responsibility mean new salary/hours?