Back when I was a senior in high school, I was taken by surprise when people started to look up to me. I guess it had never happened before. My parents and friends were sold on the idea of people being “born leaders” and I was clearly not one of those.
One time in particular, I was part of a team assignment for a class. We were all exchanging ideas and everyone suddenly felt that I had the best idea. So, now they figured I was in charge. What was my plan? I must confess that I was completely taken off-guard. I had never experienced something like this and I was not at all prepared to assume a leadership position. I don’t think I had ever taken the time to even observe or consider what a good leader even did, because I never thought I would be able to use such information. Undoubtedly, I had been around several good leaders before, but I never put a thought into how they did it or why they were so good at leading. I just assumed that each was some kind of über mensch. They were born leaders and that is why they led and did a good job at it.
I certainly was no über mensch, but the people in my group seemed to think otherwise. For a moment, I thought about continuing this deception and trying to pose as a leader, but after a minute, I came to my senses. I clearly recall the folly of others who have tried to feign leadership and what a terrible job they did. I didn’t want to mess everything up for our group, so I confessed to them that I was not a leader, I was just an idea guy. They seemed disappointed and chose to go with the 2nd best idea instead of mine, because that person was willing to lead. He did a good job too.
This scenario, wound-up happening a few times that year. It got me thinking. People keep expecting me to lead and I keep backing-away from it. It is too bad that I was not a born leader. I wished there was a way to learn this sort of thing.
It wasn’t until I was in the US Army, that I realized how to handle things better. Leaders are not actually über mensches. They are ordinary people who simply possess an understanding of leadership and organizational skills. Heck, even army guys can learn it. 😉
People in the US Army are taught from day 2, that each soldier will be in charge of something, someday in the very near future. The army does a solid job of encouraging you to be organized and plan ahead. Focus on the plan, not the task. Think “big-picture”. Make sure your plans don’t interfere with the bigger plan.
Of course, not everybody in the army catches-on right away, but that is okay. Because all of your leaders will stomp the stupidity out of you very quickly and you will learn to lead or follow and you will know when to do either of those. Once you get it, things seem to go much more smoothly.
Unfortunately, most people with whom I’ve worked, have never been in the US Army. They have never had “the stupid stomped out of them” by a platoon sergeant or staff sergeant. So, they may not realize the value of having some familiarity with leadership and organizational skills.
After programming for a while, a programmer learns to program well, and design well, and people start looking up to him. Next thing you know, he is in charge of a project. That is when reality sets-in and there is a sudden realization, “I have been working on my programming skills but not on leadership skills. I’m lost”.
If that is you, I would strongly recommend that you do something about it (other than, “fake it till you make it”, because that is a losing proposition). Being a good leader is really pretty easy, once you know what to do, and it makes everything roll very nicely and simply. You will find that you will even stop asking stupid questions like “why do we have to do this BS” or “can’t somebody else do it” or “I don’t wanna…”. Hard to believe, but it really happens.
Really, I’m serious. Once you understand leadership and organization skills, you will have the answers to these obnoxious questions and more. The mysteries of world will be revealed to you. Your boss will no longer seem like an idiot (although you might have some good advice to share with him). Even the government will make sense in sort-of a weird and dysfunctional, creepy way.
A great place to start with all of this is the “Personal MBA reading list“. It is much cheaper than diving into a full MBA. After you have read a few books, it will help you decide if you want to commit to a full-time leadership position. In the mean time, you will be building valuable skills and accumulating domain knowledge that you will probably have to use periodically.
So, hit the bookstore and do something good for your brain. So the next time you get, “Surprise, you are in charge”, now we don’t have to use the 2nd best idea instead.