13 November 2010


Recently, I was at a meeting that ended when one of the organizers said, "Well, I got what I needed." I immediately had flashbacks to a couple of really bad dates. All that was missing was the sound of a zipper.

I bit the inside of my lip and looked down at the table, struggling not to laugh at the sheer absurdity and abuse of "leadership" embedded in that statement. I've been thinking about this and other non-examples ever since.

I don't want to be around leaders who don't care about the personal relationships they build with others. I'm not saying that you have to be friends with everyone. You don't have to spend time together outside of the workplace. But if you have no interest in people for who they are---if you never ask about their family, hobbies, travel/holiday plans, or something---if you are all automaton and no humanity---I will have little respect for your office goals. We are not our jobs. If you can't treat the people who work for you better than that, don't be surprised when you don't get the results you're looking for.

A position of leadership can make for a very full calendar. Don't add things to it if you have no intention of following through. Don't tell people you think their work is important and you're excited about participating, only to never show up (and never apologize for the absence). Sure---unexpected events arise. Double-bookings happen. Meetings get moved in time, scope, and space. People get sick. Sometimes your boss will make the decision about priorities. These are realities that should be accommodated. But at least be gracious enough to communicate with others about your plans and choices.

Most of all, don't be the leader who thinks they have all the answers and never listens. If you really do have the answers you want, don't call a pretend meeting because you think others will feel better having "input." We can see through that. A couple of months ago, we invited a "leader" from another division to get some background about our assessment process. And after she'd moved the meeting twice (the first time to a date neither of us were available; and the second one to a time well after the end of my workday), she spent the first 15 minutes yapping at us about what she wanted and needed. So not impressed with that. There was no attempt to seek to understand---and several of the pieces of information we'd prepared went back to the office with us. It was quite obvious that her own selfish interests were all that could ever matter to her.

The problem, of course, is that most of us are stuck having to work with leadership like this at one point or another. Someone who is sterile, selfish, or lacks integrity has likely been that way for a long time. Professional development or a directive from higher up in the food chain is not going to change those qualities. What can you do? Here are my strategies:
  • Do good work. Do it for better reasons than what an incompetent boss provides. Do it in ways that get you noticed outside of your workspace and connect you to others with your values. 
  • Laugh---a lot.
  • Be the sort of example you wish the leadership would set. It won't change them, but it will change the variety of relationships you have and create a space away from the ridonkulousness of whoever thinks they're in charge. 
  • Minimize your contact with poor leadership. This isn't always possible---we can't ignore meeting requests just because someone is a jerk---but go with some way to occupy your hands and mind while the clock ticks away and the "leader" thinks everything is ducky. Do your seat time and make no promises---then get out and play and do something that makes you feel alive and significant. Afterward, go back and do the job you know needs to be done.
I will, unfortunately, be required to repeat my experience meeting with the organizers mentioned at the start of this post. But there is something very freeing in learning how to disconnect myself from their self-important chatter. After all, I don't work for them. I work for the teachers and children in this state. And they don't have time for such nonsense.

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