Anatomy of a Leader

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, I had a boss who had an extra appendage: his Blackberry.

You’d swear that the thing had its own blood supply, since said boss clearly wasn’t able to function without it.

One morning, I got into the office a little early – around 8am, when our start time was 9. At the time, I was waking up at 6:30 every day, and I had developed a similarly close [read: annoying] relationship with my own Blackberry. It was turning into a true occupational, personal and every other kind of hazard for me, but such hazards were accepted by all at this company.

I’d lay in bed, cozy under my covers, and start scrolling through emails that I’d received during the wee hours. News, breaking news, industry news, press releases, messages from potential vendors reaching out and looking for business, late night reply-all emails and the like amounted to close to 100 unread messages every morning – before I ever arrived at the office.

The morning I arrived early was a morning I noticed that my boss had emailed me around 4am. Situating myself at my desk, he came over and was visibly spun up about something. His jittery, hyper vibe made me nervous, and I was certain I wouldn’t need my coffee that morning since I’d obviously be able to get my energy through osmosis.

“Hey! Did you see my email?!” he said.

“I did,” I replied. Before I could continue, he decided to take over.

“Well? Why didn’t you reply to me? What were you doing?”

What was I doing? Sheesh. Getting ready to go to work. Alongside you. Why didn’t I reply? A number of reasons flooded my brain. I wanted to say so much, not the least of which included the following:

1)      I sleep during the 4am hour. If you don’t, that’s your business.

2)      If I wake up and see your email at 6:30 – an email which isn’t life or death, and which isn’t about losing an account, upsetting a client, missing a deadline or blowing a ton of money – I would expect that discussing it with you at a sane hour, in person, is more than appropriate. If you disagree, then I would say you have more than a few issues.

3)      If I am so important, then please promote me.

4)      Better yet, if your job cannot get done without my input, please resign and I will take your role.

5)      And, by the way, your fly is down.

(His fly was always down. I have no idea how this became a regular occurrence. Since we’re talking about anatomy, perhaps it was an indicator of his unhealthy obsession with the digital appendage. After all, if he were to have focused less on it, the other one may have been properly concealed on a more regular basis.)

“Never let ’em see you sweat” came to mind, so I played nicely. It’s the least I could do (for myself) since he was clearly running with scissors and I felt like living until 5pm.

“I really wanted to discuss it with you in person, because there’s a lot that can be misunderstood through email. Can we talk about it now? I have some questions for you.”

It wasn’t the truth, but it worked. He seemed incredibly pleased with himself that he’d bothered to hog my morning brainwaves with work, but he was none the wiser that I was telling a little white lie. In reality, the guy liked to feel incredibly important, and I think he especially enjoyed getting everyone riled up for no good reason. He liked seeing people shake in their boots, liked making people sweat the small stuff. And honestly, if that’s the way you do business, then shame on you. Have you no manners? Sanity is largely underrated these days, I’m sorry to say, but there are a few gems out there who still let it reign supreme.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it was one heck of a job, but it taught me a lot about what I want out of my managers. It also taught me a lot about what to never tolerate again. One doesn’t become a leader by having a lofty title, a company car, a bigger paycheck or a corner office. One doesn’t become a leader by being in what’s perceived as the most important department, by bringing in new business or by having people report to him or her. One becomes a leader by first of all remembering that everyone is human, and by treating people with the same respect that they, too, would demand. One becomes a leader by not ruling with an iron fist, a booming voice, by throwing things or by taking credit for what others have done.

In the same way that one lets their partner lead while on the dance floor, true leadership needs to be fueled by a spirit of partnership in the business world, too. Today, after reflecting on a few times in my life where leadership has lacked despite the fact that “leaders” were present, those people who are good examples of positive management and who know the true meaning of leading and inspiring are the ones for whom I am thankful.

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