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Dan Pink on Motivation

The Uncomfortable Nature of Leadership

Tribes cover

My friend David Pu'u pointed to Seth Godin's post on the uncomfortableness of leading where he quotes from his bestselling book on leadership, Tribes.

It’s uncomfortable to stand up in front of strangers.
It’s uncomfortable to propose an idea that might fail.
It’s uncomfortable to challenge the status quo.
It’s uncomfortable to resist the urge to settle.

When you identify the discomfort, you’ve found the place where a leader is needed.

As they say, "No pain; no gain."

There are two kinds of leading.

The first kind of leading is by personal performance, knowledge and expertise as one of the gang, often referred to as "first among equals" after the Latin phrase, "primus inter pares."

The members of the group are equal in position, but one leads because of their knowledge, expertise or a position of authority.  Such as with a business partnership where one of the partners is the managing partner.

The second kind of leading is when you have a position of authority within an organizational structure.

It is the second one where the most discomfort comes in.

I was the scoutmaster for my sons' scout troop for eight years. I tried to run our troop as a "first among equals", until my lead assistant in charge of camping didn't like a decision I made about his son's advancement. Within five days, the situation went from a disagreement between us to a challenge of my authority as scoutmaster before the whole troop. It wasn't personal. It was the principle of the issue. However, when the line was crossed from being between us to involving all the families, I had to exercise the authority that comes with the position. In consultation with the troop committee, he was suspended from all future activities with the troop. It was a sad moment because it didn't have to go that far. The beneficial result was that it created confidence that the boys would be treated fairly and cared for appropriately. Confirmation of the difficult decision came as parents stepped forward, offering their support and help.

It was very uncomfortable experience and a great lesson in leading. To this day, five years later, I'm still affected by it. He was my friend and scouting partner. We hiked together. We were a great team together. And in a matter of a few days, it was over.

This is one of those issues that supervisors and middle managers are not taught to understand. They rise through the ranks of the company. Someone thinks that they have some leadership skills, and they are elevated into a manager position. The challenge for them is no longer being one of the guys. It is why leadership is an uncomfortable position to be in.

This is why leadership is not just tactics and strategies, but personal character and the capacity to change.

If you are in this position, here are three areas to focus your attention.

1. Be clear about the long-term impact you want to achieve.

2. Be clear about the values that govern your decisions and behavior.

3. Be clear that you can't take personally, the conflicts and disputes that come with authority, even if it is personal to the other person. You can't let it become about you, it isn't, but about principles and goals.

I encourage you to read Seth's NY Times bestseller book, Tribes, and to subscribe to his blog. I also encourage to read David's blog, especially right now as he chronicles his adventures in Bali.

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