Leadership Issues

What are some of the issues one faces when trying to be a leader? Some of these ideas or concerns have been bouncing around my head as a result of what I’m trying to do with Chicago Bass Ensemble, others as part of my “day gig” at Cars.com, where I have been a manager of people, and also have been part of the core team leading a shift to agile product methodology (sorry about the buzzwords).

  • Fear of Stepping Out –  It’s easy to be somewhat anonymous when you’re part of the team. Yeah, being a team player is an important skill. But sometimes being just “on the team” means that you don’t have to put your neck on the line. Or it means that you can slink back when times are a little tough and imagine that the blame for failure is evenly distributed. Or while pretending to shoulder the responsibility equally, you can think to yourself “well I did my part, but you-know-who didn’t.” If you’re going to be a leader, you may have to stand up and take an unpopular stance, and accept or (politely and appropriately) level criticism for failure.
  • Not Knowing Your Place (is it really me they’re following?) – Really, me? What I say publicly matters, gets repeated, gets acted on, makes people angry or worried? That’s such a strange feeling. I don’t–I really don’t–want to sound egotistical here, but some days I feel like that’s what’s happening around me, and I hadn’t expected it. In the case of the Chicago Bass Ensemble, of course it happens: I am the leader. As a bassist, it is unfamiliar and even unexpected to be the one calling the shots.
  • Bogging Down in Administration – Eighth Blackbird tweeted “Amen! ‘@JohnBirmingham: So much of life is admin. And I suck at admin.'” I seconded that (in technical terms, I retweeted it, just as Eighth Blackbird did). The point I want to make is that it is awfully easy, whether you’re good or bad at it, to spend your time doing the admin work. Setting up a schedule, sending e-mails, marking parts, balancing your checkbook all take a lot of time, and they feel good when they’re done because you can see tangible results. But doing those things takes time, much more time than you realize, leaving you without either the time or energy to make leadership decisions.
  • Not Getting Administrative Work Done – This is the counterpoint to bogging down in administration. It’s also fun and rewarding to do leader stuff: dream up the five- or ten-year plan, create the vision board (oh yeah, gotta do that), envision the recording session. But if doing the leader stuff is all you do, and you don’t have a support staff to carry out the detailed planning and doing, nothing’s going to happen. In that case, see my first point and think about who takes the blame for failure to produce anything.
What about you? What do you think are challenges for leaders? Which of these are the most important, or the hardest to overcome? How have you battled them? I’d love to hear your comments.

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