— Better wear a helmet…
It’s not that leadership is overly complex — it isn’t. It does, however, require a significant amount of skill. Those skills can come from a variety of sources — good bosses, bad bosses (yes, we learn from idiots and jerks as well), development programs and efforts, mentors, reading, etc.
Where we get them is not nearly as important as that we get them.
But even with those skills, many fail. Many stumble badly. Many just plain suck at it. Sometimes it’s a “right place and right time” thing. Lots to be said for combining planning and opportunity, right? Frequently, however, leaders stumble because someone in their charge stumbled. Or failed. Or dropped the ball. Or some other nifty cliché.
Or sometimes, it’s just plain “shit happens.” Leadership is fraught with risk; we cannot be successful at leading if we are unwilling to stick our neck out from time to time. Sometimes, it seems, our neck can get lopped off when we do…
So, leadership can hurt — better wear a helmet!
By wearing a helmet (it’s a metaphor, folks… you didn’t really think I meant wear some goofy headgear, did you??), I mean:
Prepare. Develop core leadership skills. Refine them, emulate others (the good ones), collaborate with smart people. In other words, set yourself up to succeed.
Plan. This is different than personal preparation as mentioned above. This means get ready for the unexpected. Develop contingency thinking and strategies; seldom do plans — even great ones — go off without a hitch. If that “hitch” is something you could have/should have foreseen, shame on you, that’s your fault.
Do some “what if” thinking when leading others. Develop rapid decision-making skills, and don’t be afraid to “immediately make another decision” when one doesn’t work. You’ve got newer, better information now, so stop riding that dead horse (I’m on a metaphor-roll today…).
Finally Execute. Fortune favors the bold. Make hard decisions, make them quickly, and stand behind them solidly, don’t waffle a bit. Be willing to immediately change to a “better” decision (see dead horse metaphor above). Take advice from those relevant people around you, then act on it. Patton’s “violently executed plan” comes to mind here.
So does Nike’s “Just do it.”
So, yes, leadership can hurt. Circumstances may change; people will disappoint you; decisions anointed as “great” will turn out to be “not so much…”
Stuff happens. Put on your helmet. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back in there…