Leadership Never Looked Like This

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Question: After years of membership in my local professional organization, they finally roped me into serving as an officer, which means a lot of meetings where nothing ever gets  done. I thought leadership would be more glamorous somehow.

Answer:

Not everyone gets to be an Elon Musk or Steve Jobs type of leader, with apparently absolute power and authority to scream obscenities at his senior engineers who somehow continue to put up with it. Most of real leadership is service: in the trenches, often between equals. This means persuasion or indirect prodding rather than shouting, although competence  with things like web site management can allow you to take over entire committees without anyone objecting.

My tendency is to rely on yelling, because that’s what worked for me in the workplace (well, it got results, which is almost the same as “working”). The thing is, with professional associations, the people with the time and willingness to serve are often not the hard-charging types. The chargers are out there working crazy hours already, and can’t maintain regular lives.

Mentoring the next generation is not something tech-world go-getters have time for, nor do they value it. Job interviewers don’t ask about it. They ask things like “What’s your greatest weakness?” but never “How do you give back to your profession?” because, frankly, nobody thinks tech writing is a profession anymore.

Also, they don’t want people wasting time on their own professional development when they should be working for the company instead. Maybe everyone’s job will go away next week, due to some new disruptive innovation that throws everybody out of work. Also, devaluing any sort of professional skill is great way to keep wages low.

At one recent officers’ meeting (sorry, guys) I was sitting there asking why our web site hadn’t been updated with information that I had sent 3 weeks ago, and the finger-pointing was almost ludicrous. It was worse than kindergarten. “Well, I haven’t gotten around to it” and “I never do anything till he does it first”. I slumped in my chair, staring off into a corner where the wall met the ceiling, and waited until everyone lapsed into a sort of embarrassed silence.

This was a Yin tactic straight out of Taoist literature, just to let things take their natural course and let water run downhill naturally.

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