This was only supposed to be a two-line post…

One of those articles that I will kick myself if I don’t bookmark. The checklist for leaders in effectively balancing caring and candor is worth the read alone.

John Maxwell: “Balancing Care With Candor”

My only issue with the article is that it doesn’t (and probably just can’t) address the “leaders” who THINK they care. Yet anyone with a functioning frontal lobe can see straight through it.

You can’t fake caring. I’ll admit I sometimes have problems with candor when it’s needed. But I’ve always found that when I genuinely care about the person and/or their progress, it’s actually pretty easy to have the tough conversations.

Leadership neither has to be a disaster nor a challenge to dread. For me, frankly, it’s the easiest part of the job. Even with the toughest nuts, all it takes is a consistent track record of their leader being right to convince them that they can either get on the bus or get out of the way.

For me, it’s a leader either being consistently wrong, or otherwise being difficult when difficult is not called for, that makes me jump out of the way and start my own route.

My career has been nothing short of a “Revenge of the Nerds” sequence. I never WANTED to be in the Alpha Beta or the Pi Delta Pi groups. I despise “authority” and I loathe assholes who think they DESERVE to be on top because of who they think they are … what some title or credential says they are. Give me my membership in the Tri-Lambs any day. Let me take the reins of the “outer circle” and let us collectively outshine everybody we encounter.

As John Maxwell said in his article, “Candor without care creates distant relationships.” Which explains why, in nearly every job I’ve had, I’ve defected from the inner circle voluntarily. I got chastised for the time I spent nurturing my staff at one job; I got scolded regularly for befriending the staff (NOT my direct reports, mind you) at another job.

I get that it’s lonely at the top. But I stay in line when I’m feeling happy, nurtured and supported. But there’s also a certain amount of give-and-take when it comes to gaining your staff’s trust. I do believe it’s possible to hold the party line while giving them insight into what makes you personally tick. In fact, I don’t trust any of my leaders until they share with me a frustration with the status quo or a battle they can’t seem to win but keep fighting anyway because they believe in it.

The problem with any organization is that there are people either trying to stay in, or enter, the inner circle. And that means giving up some information to the highest of the high court that betrays someone else. And consistently, save my time at Ye Olde Employment Establishment, that information (true or exaggerated or downright fictional) is treated as valuable.

In other words, and I’m looking at the Den of Iniquity on this one, information is power. Even if it’s completely false. Because it indicates loyalty to the company. And I’m all for being loyal to the company. But you can still be loyal to the company and the management and still be puzzled by their policies and behavior. It’s OK to question things. This isn’t 1940s Germany, for fuck’s sake.

Anyway, my good friend and mentor gave me some wonderful perspective last night. True leadership is about the transfer of skills and knowledge. Some leaders (I believe we call them “managers”) manage from 30,000 feet. They don’t get involved. They are, at best, a coach on the sidelines.

There is a use for this. When I’ve supervised graphic designers and programmers and other people whose work boggles my mind, I’m the one who says, “Your show. I’m the executive producer. You tell me what you recommend.”

But when I’ve trained writers and editors — note the word “trained” here — I’m more of a quarterback, my friend said. I get on the field and show people where to run the ball. I know good copy and I know it so well that it goes against my principles to NOT show someone what can be done with it.

And that time investment nearly always pays off. Because while you can’t teach people how to think, you can certainly show them how YOU think.

I know I’m a good leader. While I still have lots to learn, I would match my skills against the best in the business at my age. Where I fall short is managing my managers. I don’t play games and I don’t want to rush their stupid fraternities or sororities. I tell people they’re being mean when they’re being mean.

I smile through a lot of shit but I will implode when it comes time to compromise my personal values. I champion the underdogs when I feel they deserve a chance.

I do not revere the “golden children” just because of their fortunate status. As a matter of fact, I think most golden children are just dicks who had better not get too egotistical about their temporary good fortune.

And that has consistently gotten me ousted from the inner circles of the world and, sadly, from the jobs themselves. But you know what? No matter how angrily I wake up (and today was one of those days), I fall asleep quite easily knowing that while the person in the mirror has a few more worry lines than before, she’s still a face I can look at and say, “Well, Self. Things may suck right now but I stayed true to you. We will sleep well tonight.”

And while I know plenty of managers who don’t deserve the good nights they enjoy, I do know that the real leaders of the bunch — at all levels of an organization — lose too much sleep over the gap between being authentic and being successful.

I think you can have both. I have yet to PROVE it, but I think authenticity is the only way to be a true success.

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