Surrounding yourself with leaders

Found the linked post above via Carnival of the Capitalists, and it got me thinking. Not only is this more-or-less how things seem to work on this new team here at my new job -- with a soupcon more of classic leadership provided by our fearless semi-leader -- but I'm also slightly surprised to find that I think I might like it much better than being, myself, In Charge.

However, I think Strange Brand does miss the boat on a few key elements. Maybe it's just because I don't like it when I don't know who's in charge, having been burned far too many times in my last two jobs on things I thought I was doing only to find out I just wasted two weeks (or months) of my life working on something that someone else takes away, or has handed to them. Not because I was doing a poor job, or at least I've never been given that explanation. Just because lines of authority and/or communication have never been clarified and some arbitrary decision gets made at some level where they may not even have known I'd already done the legwork, or some "manager" decides an effort needs a "team" but the personalities and politics of that team mean someone else is going to make all of the decisions ... unless I wanted to choose that battle, which of course I never (well, hardly ever) did.

So that's a long digression to say that I may still be reacting to those experiences as opposed to the reality of the situation here, which I'm still sussing out after just two months, anyway. But, to the extent that it seems vestigially true here, I'll sum up my difference of opinion with the author of the linked piece by saying that the distinction between leader and led is a false dichotomy, in at least two ways off the top of my head:

(1) Any successful organization has a division of labor. If the putative leader of the overall thing does not defer to the, for example, technical leadership of the legal guy, or the financial guy, or the supply guy, when the questions at hand are in their areas of expertise, the putative leader will be very sorry when he's in court, out of business, or doesn't have any paper for the copy machine. So, the mixed-bag-o-leaders the author holds out as a unique solution isn't, very.

(2) I also don't buy this description, at all:
There are a lot of talented people who need to be supervised, and there are a lot of people who get a thrill out of micromanaging.
Supervision isn't the same thing as management, and management isn't the same thing as micromanaging. At. All.

At the first project, we had three 'bosses'. The first one was a nuclear-strike manager. Very hands-off until she felt like making command, and I do mean command, decisions. That was the first time I ever had stuff yanked out from under me to the total disregard of whatever I may (or, toward the end, may not) have put into the work already. We actually formed a little support group to go out for coffee and whatever to boost ourselves back up after some of her blitzkrieg 'management' incidents.

The second was laissez-faire to the point of a truly invisible hand. We splintered away from supporting each other until we moved offices and had a nice little suite to compare notes more easily, and although it was much kinder and gentler I will say the work surely suffered through the total absence of management.

The third (after a 3 or 4 month interregnum vacillating between micromanagement and no management) was the classic micromanager nightmare: Totally did not trust anyone to be able to do any aspect of their jobs, despite the fact that we had been doing ours for 5-7 years and she had been doing hers for 20 minutes. I don't want to dwell on her because she was such a terrible, terrible boss.

Nor will I get into the bosses at the second project, since there was actual malice and deliberate damage inflicted there, which is a problem of an entirely different order.

But I think these few examples trivially demonstrate that his dichotomy is not a useful one. Yes, there are a few people who like to dictate, command, and control. They don't make good bosses and they make terrible managers. There are also people who like to be strictly organized by others and only accountable within the scope of whether or not they followed orders. They can only be classified as high-maintenance drones, who make pretty lousy employees in my experience.

Normal Earth People like flexibility in how we do our jobs. Whatever our own level of work, we like peers to consult when we have functional or tactical questions, higher-level folks to consult when we have operational or strategic questions, lower-level folks to help us get things done. Sometimes we like to make decisions, sometimes we like to build consensus, and sometimes we like someone else to put their neck(s) out. We like to know when it's our call and when it's not, even if we don't always like the division of decision-making. Personally, I like to know who's accountable for task X, so that if it's me I'll sweat the details but if it's not I'll save my sweat for something else. I love sharing credit with folks who've shared the work, or even subordinates who haven't done much but could benefit from the confidence or status boost. Just don't ask me to do the work for someone who won't acknowledge my contribution.

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