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BFTP: The Accidental Leader

A weekend Blue Skunk "feature" will be a revision of an old post. I'm calling this BFTP: Blast from the Past.  Original post February 8, 2007

Leadership is getting someone to do what they don't want to do, to achieve what they want to achieve. - Tom Landry

Miguel Guhlin over at Around the Corner started a meme*: “What are 7 qualities we don't know about you that help you be a leader?”  and tagged me as one of seven district level administrators. I’ve mulled this one over for a few days.

I have some issues with the term “leader.” It’s been bandied about way too much and has lost much of its meaning. Being a leader assumes one has followers, and heaven help anyone who follows me since I am usually quite lost. Our current crop of public, political leaders, I am sorry to say, don’t exhibit many qualities with which I wish to be associated.

I don’t know what I can really add that won’t sound cliché, so I will come at this a little differently. These are some of the things accidental leaders, people who don’t set out to direct anyone, do that still makes them worthy of being followed. I can’t claim to have a single one of these attributes, but they are qualities of people I have appreciated as a boss or coworker and do my best to emulate.

1. When asked if something could be done, I like people who say, “Anything's possible."
After discussion it might not be practical or advisable, but any idea to my kind of leader always starts out as possible. I admire people who are all about helping others accomplish what they want to accomplish.

2. I respect those folks who show respect for everyone. I like the “leader” who shows as much interest in his foot soldiers and he does his generals. People are people are people and all have value – and not just as employees. This also means being transparent about how decisions are made, giving people credit for having enough brains to understand things like making policies, developing budgets, and having their own visions and values.

3. I genuinely appreciate anyone who accepts responsibility, takes blame, and shares credit. Too many people shirk the responsibility, shift the blame and take the credit. These people are also known as assholes. Or too often political partisans.

4. I admire considered risk-takers. They think things through, but don’t need to know all the answers before trying something. They might well live by Theodore Rothke’s line “I learn by going where I have to go.”  Plus they know when to cut their losses if they get unanticipated negative consequences.

5. My deepest admiration goes to those who can actually turn vision into practice. There seem to be ten educational architects for every educational carpenter in this world. Ask me, the carpenters, who can actually take the blueprint and make it stand against the wind, are not only leaders, but even heroes. I think I liked it best when leaders are actually sitting on the horse at the front of their armies.
6. Those folks I like working with have a sense of humor. Especially about themselves. (If everyone else is laughing at you, you may as well join in.)

7. I like anyone with a highly developed sense of perspective. Knowing what hills are worth dying on and which aren’t. These folks who know it is usually not worth spending hundreds of hours trying to write a mission statement no one reads anyway. These are bosses who recognize that families are more important as jobs. People in authority know that the best rule is to sometimes break a rule. Directors who know fair and equal are not synonymous. Coworkers who know most mistakes are not fatal and there are few things that you can do that will actually get you kicked off the planet.

One of the ironies of being in a “positional” leadership role – a director, a manager, a supervisor – is that one quickly finds out how little power one actually has. Ordering a thing to be done or a philosophy to be believed is usually about as productive as ordering a two-year-old to eat his peas – you might eventually get the peas in the kid, but the mess will be so bad, you’ll wonder why you started the process. Even “positional” leaders soon find they can lead best by example, with humility, and with common sense.

If this is a meme that interests any of the Blue Skunk readers, please consider yourself nominated to continue it. Passing on a meme make me feel about as guilty as telling a telemarketer the names of other people who might be interested in their product. People do it, I suppose, but does that make it right?

* Whatever happened to memes anyway?

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