Oct 31, 2011
It is 6:15 in the morning and I’m sitting alone in my office. It is nearing winter time and the sun hasn’t come up. It is that time of year again; the time where it is dark when I leave for work and dark when I finish.
It’s funny how leadership is often glorified. The imagery that accompanies the word is often powerful speeches by great leaders of the past like Churchill, Dr. King, and Vince Lombardi. Truly they led brilliantly and the results often followed. I often wonder in between those moments of exceptional-ism what their lives were like. Were all their moments in between filled with inspiration, passion, and unwavering loyalty to their cause?
For me, I have found that visualization is the key. I come in early because I need the quiet time for reflection, planning, thought, and inspiration. The leadership books talk about this, and the leadership gurus speak about it. They discuss making the time to be strategic, to plan for the future. While I agree it has to happen, I also would like to say that this is easier said than done, for when you are actually running a business and not just talking about it, often the time to quietly plan is sporadic at best. Further, running a business requires some “here and now” in the moment thinking. As we all know tomorrow will not come if today’s must do’s are left undone.
Some mornings I come in and I am inspired. Perhaps it was a good nights sleep, a good workout, or a great idea that came to me over night that I couldn’t wait to further flesh out. Other mornings I come to work and the silence serves as a perfect reflection of the often isolated life of a leader.
In the silent darkness I think about the future and sustainable management, operations, and leadership. I ask myself questions about things I can control such as personnel, processes, customer relationships as well as things I can’t like the flailing economy, what our competitors are doing, and the ever changing proliferation of technology. I worry about the families of those I employ, the hopes and dreams of their loved ones, and their complete dependence on me to make sure the check clears on Friday.
Just this past week one of our biggest competitors shed 80% of their work force and now all but cease to exist. I sit and I wonder what their leadership was thinking, is thinking, was doing, is doing; and I can only assume they did the best they knew how only to come up short.
Leadership is lonely.
By 7:00 AM the first group of employees start to stroll in. Everything seeming very routine, usually their first 2 or 3 actions can make you feel like it’s “Groundhog Day.”
When the employees come to work they aren’t thinking about the bank accounts, the receivables aging, the fluctuating interest rates, and the pressure from our shareholders and stakeholders to perform. With the exception of a few, they just expect that stuff to be taken care of and it is.
For the most part this spans all employees including the very best, and really there is nothing wrong with this attitude. They choose to be employees for this reason and you choose to be a leader/entrepreneur for your own reason. With employment there is an image of safety, security, and consistency. All worthy aspirations, and as leaders we should feel a sense of urgency to accommodate.
But we must “Lead-on”
It is for this very reason that leaders may feel this lonesomeness in the pit of their stomach. For driving a business, supporting quality of your life and the life of others, and the requirement for constant outward positive actions can be draining.
There are no commercial breaks or time outs in our sport. Losing records mean losses of customers, jobs, or worse yet our businesses. We often put our heart, soul, and our financial well being on the line for our businesses and we owe it to ourselves and to those who depend on us to capture the pressure and create something good from it.
Today I don’t make any excuses. I arrive again, head high, and I am focused on what has to be done. For my job isn’t to talk about leadership, it is to “Be Leadership.” When the problem of the day or week or year is passed along and arrives on my desk there is no “passing the buck,” for I am the buck and that is okay. For today when I leave the near (if not entirely) empty office I know my place in the ecosystem and I know what I have done to make the lives of the families I support better. And I know this whether or not a single one of them has taken notice.
For leadership is rewarding, it is inspiring, it is about passion but it is never about credit. We don’t lead for the credit, we lead for higher purpose and sometimes it is lonely on top, but nevertheless we must lead on.