I have been thinking a lot about leadership lately.
Perhaps it is because our Director has recently moved on to another position with another organization and I (as well as the other manager in my unit) have been called upon to backfill that role. Consequently, in the past 2 months I have found myself working at a higher level in the organization than normal, sitting at the table with our senior academic leadership team & getting a firsthand view of academic leadership.
I am also fortunate to be in the enviable position of being on the hiring committee to hire a new Director for our centre (how nice to be able to have a say in who your new boss will be) and so I have been able to not only witness a number of potential leaders articulate what their vision for our unit might be, but also get a sense of what leadership qualities the other institutional leaders on the hiring committee value.
Because of these two things, I have been thinking about my own leadership role and trying to unravel the complex feelings I have about being a “leader”. I am realizing more and more that there are people that are expecting this of me and my unit. Heh. Only took me a year and a half to figure that out. Yeah, a bit slow on the uptake sometimes. There’s a good leadership quality.
Those quotes around the word leader in the above paragraph aren’t modesty. I genuinely find the thought of being a leader uncomfortable. Leaders are the ones up there at the front of the room. I am not a stand in front of the room kinda guy. Those who have met me in a f2f context would probably say I am the quiet fly-under-the-radar guy sitting over there in the corner.
There is a reason I used to work in radio. I wasn’t very good at it. I got better and could have probably forged a decent career if I had the desire to continue, but it never felt natural. It always felt like I was working against something inside me. But I took a lot away from that career that has served me well to this day. If it wasn’t for working in a highly social and public forum like broadcasting that forced me out of my shell and into the spotlight, I would probably be this Ted Kazynski-ish hermit shunning humanity and living off the grid in some cabin in the woods. Minus the crazy. Maybe.
I am the quiet one because I often struggle to do one of the things that I think a leader has to do to be a good leader – articulate a vision of what the future could look like, and then convince people to come along for the ride. It takes a level of salesmanship to sell your ideas in a room full of people.
It’s not that I don’t have a vision. I do. I just have a hard time clearly expressing what that vision is. I struggle. I lack the salesmanship. Which is probably why I have always gravitated to writing. I joke that I am an asynchronous guy living in a synchronous world, and I find it much easier to express things in writing than I do in a highly interactive social situation. But standing in front of a room and selling your idea is something a good leader does. I am sure the expression “take a stand” emerged out of being the one who stands out and passionately illuminates a different way.
I admire those people and seek them out. The ones who inspire. Who are the big thinkers. The ones who can cut through the noise and find the signal. I feel much more comfortable finding those people who have articulated a vision that matches mine – who have found the words to say what I am thinking and (more importantly) what I am feeling (I am an INFJ after all), and then saying “Yes! I want to follow you! I want to help you reach that vision.” I want to be part of your wolf pack (again, minus the crazy).
Like my radio days, there is something about being the leader that doesn’t quite align with how I see myself. But I know there are people in my organization who are looking for me to be that, and I am beginning to see that I need to spend some more time figuring out how to reach some sort of stasis with what people expect of me (and, more importantly, what I am beginning to expect of myself), and who I feel I am. It is a state of cognitive dissonance that I want to resolve because there are things I want to do and achieve that will require a level of leadership in my organization to make happen.
It is a learning opportunity, one that will require some courage and probably take me away from some of the things that I love to do in order to achieve the things I want to do. But the first step is recognizing the gap. Now to work at filling it.
Image: Take me to your leader by Zaykowski used under Creative Commons license.