Over the years, I’ve come to believe there is one key factor that determines whether or not someone can be considered “successful” in life; and no, I’m not talking about their social standing or how much money they have; nor the various fabulous toys, job titles, skill sets or unique talents different folks possess. And while these things may contribute to what people’s idea of what “success” is, I believe that without possessing one particular key trait, nobody – and I mean NOBODY – can ever be truly successful. The key trait I’m talking about is Leadership; and while it’s something we all believe we should expect from politicians, bosses and Scout Leaders, the truth is that we should also expect it from ourselves – regardless of our position in life.
Being a “Leader” doesn’t mean having a fancy title or job description; it means taking ownership of situations – regardless of who is actually responsible for them – and then doing whatever possible to help out. Leadership is leaving things better than we find them, by working with people (and organizations) to help them become their very best; Leadership is not selfish – it makes the world a better place by helping others succeed. Leadership offers support – not criticism, cruel remarks or fear-mongering – whenever people “mess up”, and lends a helping hand to get them back on track. Leadership is kind, confident, influential and generous; in other words, LEADERSHIP is always about being a LEADER, regardless of position, situation and circumstance.
The “Yang” to Leadership’s “Ying” doesn’t actually have a name – it’s simply the opposite of all that Leadership is. The problem with this arises whenever insecure people get in a position of “power” and become all abusive and harsh, rather than supportive and helpful; this is something we’ve all seen in a workplace at one time or another, am I right? We’ve all met these assholes, and from what I’ve seen, they are about as far from “Leadership” as London is from Tokyo.
Unfortunately, there are loads of these jerks out there; so many, in fact, that books has been written on how to deal with them! My favourite is “The No Asshole Rule” by Robert I. Sutton PhD. I actually read this book a few years ago to try and figure out how to deal with a really bad boss I worked for at a tiny hotel- a guy whose idea of “Leadership” was a stark contrast to the terrific G.M. I’d worked with a couple of years earlier. My point here is to compare their two styles and see what clues to real leadership come out.
For the rest of this post I’ll take you through a typical day of this particular boss; then in the next one (Cleverly titled “Part Two”) I’ll take you through a typical day of my “Leadership” boss. The idea is that once you’ve read them both, you can identify the stark differences in their styles, and see if there are any lessons there for you, either at work, or for life in general… Sound okay? From here on in we’ll refer to these two as “Big Guy” and “Duty Manager”; and I swear everything I write here is not only true, but I personally experienced first hand.
To begin, let me introduce you to…
Having recently re-located to the island, I was hired as Director of Operations at a a tiny 45 room conference hotel, by the newly promoted “Big Guy”. Big Guy had been working at the hotel for 17 years as the Sales Manager, and when the boss suddenly quit, despite having zero management experience or credentials Big Guy quietly assumed the top spot.
Big Guy had a reputation of hiding in his office 95% of the time, ignoring all staff and guests – a tactic he transferred to his new position as General Manger. He wasn’t a problem solver, mostly because he didn’t have any real experience in solving problems, nor the skills needed to offer solutions to daily workplace issues. Instead he’d criticize and complain about situations, but rarely provided guidance or help.
He’d begin each morning by silently sauntering through the lobby of the hotel with head bowed; he’d grab his mail then disappear up the stairs to his office located at the far end of the building where he wouldn’t be bothered by anyone. At coffee times and mealtimes he largely ignored staff, only talking to a select few who had also been around for years. I once asked him why he didn’t talk to the newer staff and he remarked “If they don’t say hello to me first, why should I say hello to them?”
Big Guy was never – and I mean NEVER – available when there was an emergency; somehow he was always unreachable! As 2nd in command it always fell on my shoulders to deal with the endless parade of staff problems and angry guests. But the one thing I could always count on was whenever the dust settled, I’d be told that my actions “caused him a lot of problems” and how he would have “handled things differently” – all despite his refusal to answer his cell phone whenever called.
Big Guy rarely accepted responsibility for the problems of the business, but would blame others and furiously wag his forefinger at them. In closed door meetings he’d yell profanities and make veiled threats of job loss – something I believe was a way to demonstrate his power. During one memorable incident (involving around a crisis he created) he panicky cried out “Tell me what to do! I don’t know!” and out of sheer frustration I suggested he do his job and “Be a Leader”. Once things calmed down, he issued a memo blaming me for the situation, finishing up by saying that I needed to begin working nights – something he knew was out of the question for a father caring for a sick kid. The stress from dealing with this guy and the problems he continued to perpetuate became unbearable; but at the time I didn’t know what to do, because I really needed to work.
You see, as a hotel executive manger, I was way, way overqualified (and severely underpaid) for the position I was in, but accepted it as I was promised a flexible schedule that would allow me to look after Tristan. This was often held against me, and at times I felt that my son’s needs were used as a kind of bartering chip to keep me there. Of all the unkind things Big Guy did, this was the most insidious, and the ongoing tension made it the most stressful time ever in my life.
Then, 15 months after I started I was approached to work at another company, and quickly jumped at the chance. Big Guy was incensed I was leaving and demanded a full months notice, which – being a professional – I agreed to. He then ignored me every single one of those next thirty days. Another 15 months after that, the parent company closed the lodge; and that was the last I ever heard of Big Guy… he just sort of fell of the radar.
Looking back now I know that Big Guy – despite being nasty, selfish and fear mongering – was really just in over his head, and didn’t know how to deal with the responsibilities that came with his new position. Oh sure, he could have backed out, or asked for help, etc. but I think since he only had a few years left he probably figured he’d ride it out, continuing to do what he always did, and no-one would notice. The problem was that this behaviour wasn’t leadership; and leadership was what the business sorely needed. Big Guy was simply lacked the experience and leadership skills to do the job, and rather than stepping up to learn them, he’d react by freaking out and creating chaos. Now that I think about it, the whole thing is actually pretty sad.
To be completely 100% honest, this experience was very, very hard on me, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I still harbour some hatred and contempt for this man. In my career he is by far the nastiest person I’ve ever encountered, and writing about it has brought forth many bad memories. Having said that, I also feel it’s good to get them out of me once and for all, and sort of exorcise them from my soul – hopefully. I don’t want to be the kind of person who carries a grudge, or harbour ill feelings for something that happened years ago; I need to remember that not only did I SURVIVE this difficult period in my life, but also learned from it.
Besides, remaining bitter won’t do anyone – including me – any good. So in a few minutes (and after 85 revisions!) when I hit “publish”, I’ll let all the hurt from this experience go, and just keep the valuable lessons from it – and in that, I believe that I will be demonstrating some personal leadership myself.
So there you have it: The “Yang” – an example of bad or non-existent leadership. In our next post you’ll meet Duty Manger, who not only exemplifies leadership, but to this day remains as one of the top mentors in my life. Wait till you hear about his daily work routine – it’s truly inspiring! Until then, go out and be a LEADER – the world with thank you for it!
Readers – Have you ever worked for a boss like this? What were the lessons you learned from it? Please let us know in the comments below!