Putting the “D’oh” in “Don’t think that you have control.”

Here were are; roughly 5 months away from the US Presidential elections.  It’s almost like having a season of the year, except that instead of seeing tree leaves changing colors or feeling the temperature changes, we’re instead exposed to political ads, campaign commercials, and auto-dialers calling at 8:00 AM in the morning asking for campaign contributions.  Some of my friends look forward to the election like it’s the fight of the decade (will we ever get to see Manny Pacquiao versus Floyd Mayweather, Jr.?), but I personally tend to get annoyed.

Why?  It’s because politics remind me of bad leadership practices.  Every day we’re exposed to the presidential nominees making promises about their plans following the elections in November.  It’s not the necessarily the plans that are bad (depending on your perspective), but rather the language that these nominees use.  It’s as if they are providing a 100% guarantee that they can deliver on their promises. 

Even the President of the United States reports to someone in order to get anything accomplished.  Lots of new laws or presidential decrees require funding which is under the control of Congress. If the President upsets the wrong people in Congress, it becomes much harder for him to follow through on his promised agenda.  If he cannot pass his agenda, his campaign promises are null and void.

That’s the problem with leadership, and I’m not just referring to politics.  I’m specifically referring to the old thinking that being in a leadership role means that you’re in control no matter if your background is in politics, business, etc…  Whether you’re in a position of power or not, the only person you can truly control is yourself.  You cannot say with certainty that just because you want or demand something to happen, it does not mean you can make it happen.

Let me give you another example: Let’s say I manage an individual working on a large project.  I just found out from my own manager that the deadline on that project needs to be moved to tomorrow.  I need this individual to stay late to finish up the project to meet the new deadline.  That individual tells me that they cannot stay late because they’re attending their daughter’s school play and they cannot miss it.

What are my options at that point?  That individual has made it clear that their daughter’s school play is their priority.  If I’m somewhat unreasonable, I could reprimand them or possibly even fire them, but what then?  The deadline still gets missed, and I’m now the one in hot water with my own manager.  The other option could be for me to compromise.  Let the individual see their daughter’s play, but ask for them to come in early the next day.  If they refuse, we may still have a problem, but at least I’ve done something that a lot of leaders don’t do, which is compromise.

I’ve worked under leaders in the past that ruled with iron fists.  If you didn’t do things exactly the way the wanted, even if there were better ways of doing things, you would be reprimanded.  I’m sure almost all of us have worked for at least one individual like that in the past.  All it winds up doing is causing the rest of us to start looking for new jobs.

Leadership is really about influencing those underneath and around you.  It’s about making compromises with the people you lead in order to get the job done.  You can “push” people in one direction or the other through influence, but you cannot move them from point A to point B on your own.

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