“While many people ponder the meaning of life, fewer tend to think deeply about the meaning of work.” (Fred Kofman)
“People listen to you,” my boss said, “they follow your lead even if it’s not what you set out to do. That’s what makes you a leader.”
I didn’t want to be. Leadership and me, we started on a wrong foot.
I was 26 when I became a project manager. There was some training, mostly about the admin part, but I failed miserably at the people part. You know that horrible boss who is always looking behind your shoulder, checks when you arrive, how you prioritise, how you socialise, how you do every little task? I was that boss. I wanted everything to be done my way and made no secret of it.
It was stressful for everyone. Micromanaging basically means I was doing everyone’s job (even if only in my head) and of course my team hated it, too. I wanted nothing to do with leading anyone after that. I decided it wasn’t for me. I’m too quiet, too introvert, too antisocial, I told myself. I’m ok with that.
I took low responsibility jobs in the following years. But life has a way of bringing back your lessons you haven’t learnt yet, so more than 10 years later I reluctantly agreed to join supervisory meetings, and it wasn’t long after that I was having the conversation with my boss about being a leader.
“What are you going to do with it?” he asked.
I tasted the flavour of that word in my mouth, leader. Can I really be that? It wasn’t the responsibility that scared me. It’s who I became in that position. Back in my twenties, it cost me a friendship, and I wanted to make sure it wouldn’t turn me into someone I’m not.
After reading specific business and general fiction books, hundreds of articles, quotes, advice, seeing the examples of others, the most important thing I learnt about leadership is that there is no one way to be a leader.
Not all leaders are loud, exuberant, charismatic or egotistic. There are gentle ones, who don’t pull people after them, but push their team in front of them. There are leaders with tattoos in the business world, and women leading factories. There are leaders who are respected because they listen, who don’t like the spotlight, whose success is reflected in the diversity of their teams.
I realised I, too, can be who I am even as a leader. And who I am as a leader is an exciting exploration situation from situation. This experience, as I wander the lands of leadership, creates the manifesto of who I am in this not-so-foreign land. Maybe it will help you to become you, too.