I remember the first time I really acted like a leader – that is, when I accepted the most important leadership responsibility.
It happened in 1977, when I was in high school. I was the editor-in-chief of our student newspaper. We had a staff of about 12 people, and my job was to get all the content put together, edited, typeset, proofed and delivered to the printer by our deadline.
For the first few issues, this process happened naturally, such that I never really had to push a “leader” button. There was enough built-up enthusiasm for this foray into journalism that things just got done, without much prodding necessary.
But then, as the novelty wore off and other teenage activities became more interesting, the staff started to get distracted, sloppy, and snippy.
So much so that we ran headlong into a deadline with a half-finished issue, and a bunch of disagreement as to what content got published.
Someone had to step into that void and somehow get the finished product out the door, but it would involve stepping on some toes, and perhaps even a few hurt feelings.
As the editor-in-chief, I clearly remember facing that dilemma, and losing sleep over it. It required doing something that had consequences, both positive and negative. I feared those negatives, so for a brief time, it paralyzed me. I didn’t want to have people mad at me, or resentful.
But in the end, I realized that if I was to be the real leader of this group, I had to do it. I had to make a decision, and press forward.
So I summoned my leadership will for the first time, and made a decision. I called together a small group of our best staff, brewed a big pot of coffee, and went to work, into the night and early morning.
I told the staff what to fix on the poor articles, and made the selections of the other content that were needed to finish the issue. We also did the proofing, editing, and typesetting, and after a flurry of work, we got the proof to the printer on time.
The issue came out, as scheduled, and it was well-received – by the readers, but not the rest of the staff. The backlash that I had feared did indeed materialize, and from that point on, I was treated differently in the staffroom, and in the classrooms.
Oddly though, I felt good about it, because what had happened was a transformation – they weren’t looking at me with the same lens. I had gone from “Terry, amenable classmate” to “Terry, tough leader who WILL get these issues out“.
I also discovered that if I was to be a leader, I had to accept the responsibility of making tough decisions, and overcome the fears that go with it.
That discovery helped my development as a leader because to this day I’m more than willing to, if given the leadership responsibility, step up and make a decision.
Indecision is a pet-peeve, and most of my biggest professional frustrations over my 31-year career involved situations where there was too much dithering over making a decision.
Dithering creates inertia, and inertia is a business-killer. My great mentor Tom Peters said it best – leaders have to develop a “bias towards action“.
Accept the responsibility. Embrace it. Step into the arena and make decisions.