Leader. There is no other word in the English language that scares the shit out of me. Especially when applied to me. Yet, there are people who claim to see this capability in me. Shit, even the United States Air Force claimed to see the ability in me. They TRAINED me to be a leader. It’s what they expected of those who were on the upward progression of the enlisted rank ladder. Every time I have had this applied to me by others – I completely freeze up. Because somewhere inside of me is this little voice which laughs out loud as it tries to spit out the phrase: “Who? You?”
In the past, I have written a few blog posts here and there noting that I am not a leader. I have utilized self-deprecating humor at nearly every turn to deflect the concept away from me. Over and over again, I have denigrated myself as not the kind of person that others would follow. All of that to convince myself that I am not capable of stepping in front of a group of people and leading them forward into….something.
A few folks would think I am a natural at this, given that I used to teach face-to-face in a Community College classroom. I’ll be honest, every single new semester, I spent the first three weeks being absolutely terrified in front of my students. The shorter Summer terms, I was an even greater wreck. Granted, they were a captive audience, but I still had to find ways to persuade them to complete assignments on time. While I loved being the professor in the classroom, there was always a tinge of terror behind my attempted calm demeanor.
One of the hardest things to be a leader on in the classroom environment was group assignments. Every student I know hated these. The reasoning was simple. No one likes having to rely on other’s for their class grade. But for me, it was (and is) perhaps the most important method for teaching folks about teamwork and leadership styles. I stressed to the students that the emphasis was not so much on the final product of the team assignment – though it would be graded for completeness and other aspects – but it was about the way that they worked together. many students would not wait for their weakest links to complete parts of the assignment, instead doing those parts for them. There was no perspective of helping the weaker student learn from what was being done – just an emphasis on getting it done. Whenever I caught wind of stuff like this, I quickly put a stop to it.
Why? Because I truly believe in supporting one another. One thing I’ve learned in nearly three and a half decades of working, teams are more than a collective of people to get a job done. Teams are places where folks can be free to be who they are (within “civilized” reason), as well as places where support mechanisms are built. Stuck on a coding problem? Come on down to Tommy’s cube and let’s discuss what the issue is. We can work together to come up with potential ideas, no matter how off-beat it may seem. Any option is a potential solution. Working together is something we all should be doing. That way, when times get tough, we have places to turn for various kinds of help. Got issues with your computer system? I can help. I’ll charge you a meal. Simple as that. Teamwork helps build concepts of community.
Now, I get paralyzed by the concept of being a leader because I don’t like being first out of the gate. I’m always worried that no one will follow. I’m also worried about always being seen as the one with the responsibility to get things done. You know, where one person does all the work but everyone else shares in the results? I like it better when everyone shares in the work and responsibilities and then share in all the results. But these are not the only reasons I freeze up. I always worry when people see me as the measuring stick. That everyone has to do things the way that I do, so they will get similar results. My idea of leadership is a little different. I let other people do their thing. When they need help, they can come to me for assistance. I’m not going to do the work for you, but I will suggest alternate ways to get beyond whatever obstacle you encounter. Perhaps, my style of leadership can be better described as mentorship. Except that I am still not adverse to rolling up my sleeves and getting the work done. I’ve never been sure what kind of leadership that is, but it’s the way I get things done. But whatever it is….it’s more me than anything else.
Sure, the concept of being out front still scares the shit out of me. I’m always worried when people see me as the guy with all the answers – because that definitely ain’t me. I am; however, the guy who will go and do the research and try to find the answers you are asking for. The real truth is, no matter how scared I am of the idea of being the first…no matter how much I fear the idea of being seen as the guy with the answers….I can be viewed as a leader in some fashion. So, instead of running from that concept, I’ll have to embrace it.
Being the person that is viewed as a leader is a scary prospect. At least it is for me. I always worry about making mistakes and disappointing people with my choices. However, making mistakes and disappointing folks comes with the territory. A better way to deal with this, in my opinion, is to listen to the criticisms and not take it too personally. And to listen to the praise as well. Though I’m never great at taking praise as much as I am at taking criticism. But that’s a post for another time.