“Leadership” is one of those words that gets bandied about like a bandy ball (I don’t know if that’s where the term comes from, but it fits). I’ll bet if you were to ask a dozen people what leadership was, you’d get a dozen different answers. My take on it is that it’s “having the qualities and skills of a leader.” Which, naturally, begs the question, “Well, what are the qualities of a leader?” And that’s where I get lost.
I spent a good deal of my career conducting training sessions. I always hated the term “teaching” as a description for what I did; I preferred the term “leading.” You teach kids, you lead adults. Except I ended up teaching most of the time. More like info-dumping, when you come right down to it. No wonder I was so tired at the end of a week; I spent close to seven hours a day on my feet speaking to classes. I don’t think I was all that adept at leading them to a greater understanding of the material, but then, this was computer software I was working with. I was basically reading manuals to them. I did it well, could think on my feet well enough that if someone asked me a weird question I could answer it, I had the requisite experience with the software that allowed me to demonstrate what I was talking about as I was talking about it, and a good enough sense of humor that, if something went sideways, I could explain what happened, or at least BS my way through it. And I knew how to deal with participants who showed up to play NIGYSOB with me, to pepper me with questions and see if I’d break. (Read Games People Play by Eric Berne for an explanation of that.)
But that’s not leadership. Nevertheless, people would credit me with having excellent leadership skills. And it’s weird, because I didn’t think I had any. Or maybe I just wasn’t willing to admit that I did.
I stopped in the instructors’ lounge one day on break, and I ran into a friend of mine. I asked him what was going on, and he said something strange: “We’re all waiting to see what you do.” Maybe he was just goofing around with me, or maybe people were waiting to see what I was going to do. Was I going to quit? Was I going to get another job with the company and abandon teaching? Was I going to do something completely different, like run off and join a rock band? In the end, I did none of those things, and the more I think of it, the more I feel like I failed them in some way.
Maybe that’s it. Given a chance to lead, I didn’t. A leader, I think, would have taken a semi-serious statement from a co-worker who was as much of a smartass as I was and run with it. Instead, I stayed, and they did too, at least until they got laid off. Maybe the course of Western Civilization would have been changed for the better in innumerable ways if I had just done something.
Or maybe not…