By Dr Hercules Kollias
Have you ever experienced one of the following ‘symptoms’ or ‘side-effects’ of leadership (or at least, have seen it in some of your colleagues)?
As a doctor, I know that disease can be caused by many different things. Usually, one can identify a cause of some sort. However, sometimes it is more difficult to identify the specific cause. It seems, that for some dis-eases in our workplace, the environment contains hidden ‘allergens’ that cause ‘inflammation’ and ‘irritation’, especially to leaders. As an executive coach, I have seen this a lot. The common areas from where these symptoms arise include the leader per se, the leaders’s people, the leader’s resources, or the leader’s environment.
Have you as a leader, ever experienced one of the following ‘symptoms’ or ‘side-effects’ of leadership (or at least, have seen it in some of your colleagues)?
LEADERITIS | Symptoms arising from the leader
SYMPTOM ➤ Will I ever really be good enough, skilled enough, ready enough?
SYMPTOM ➤ Who can I really trust, to open up to, and show my vulnerabilities, who won’t then use them against me at some point, even without meaning to?
How can any one person know everything? And, yet, it seems to be the expectation, either of others or ourselves, that we should? There are so many different aspects to an organisation or business, very often, when we enter a new job or start a new venture, we may not have always had the experience in all the specific areas we are required to lead in. This can sometimes leave us feeling very unskilled and uncertain. As successful as he was, Henry Ford admitted that he knew very little across all aspects of his business, but always knew where to look to find any answer. As a doctor, I experienced this as well. I realised that it was more important to know how to find something than to know it, since the knowledge that emerges from science changes all the time. In fact, in the final year of my Medicine/Surgery exams, some of the things that were correct six years before in my first-year exams, were now wrong and had changed. The uncertainty of feeling ‘less than’ can be further amplified when we feel we don’t really have anyone to speak to, whom we can trust to contain our vulnerabilities. To whom can we off-load our concerns? It takes time to know whom to trust. And even then, it can feel very lonely at the top.
I realised that it was more important to know how to find something than to know it
LEADERITIS | Symptoms arising from the leader’s people
SYMPTOM ➤ How available should I be, if I am to be effective?
SYMPTOM ➤ Where’s that line where they know I care, but don’t expect me to ‘parent’ them to a solution? I have so little time, I don’t even do this for my own kids because I’m always here doing it for these so called adults!
It’s natural that everybody needs their space to do their work. And yet, when it comes to leaders, this requirement sometimes seems difficult to justify, or even seems like an indulgence. People will often complain that they are not ‘available’ enough. This makes that delicate balancing act of building relationships more difficult, which in turn, can exacerbate the problem further, and so a downward spiral can begin. This awkward situation can be further inflamed by the unwritten expectations of employees or business partners to be nurtured by a benevolent leader “who cares”.
LEADERITIS | Symptoms arising from the leader’s resources
SYMPTOM ➤ Money’s great, but I have no time left to do the things I dreamed of being able to do when I signed up.
‘Meeting’ meetings, lunch meetings, dinner meetings, planned meetings, unplanned meetings, weekend meetings, strategic meetings, interstate meetings, international meetings, can all seem perfectly justified at the time. A culture that perpetuates this can also make them seem normal. All these meetings, however, escape the scrutiny of a greater perspective which would reveal the true feasibility and usefulness of each potential meeting, a perspective which requires time for reflection and review. The time that is taken up by meetings. And so it goes.
LEADERITIS | Symptoms arising from the leader’s environment
SYMPTOM ➤ How can they think that of me, after all I’m doing?
SYMPTOM ➤ I always have to be ON! I can’t afford to switch OFF!
SYMPTOM ➤ I can’t afford to appear faulted in any way.
SYMPTOM ➤ To what extent can I justify compromising my principles, for the sake of getting things done, or moving?
SYMPTOM ➤ OK, I thought we were doing something different.
SYMPTOM ➤ If they only knew, I’m not really that sure of what we should do next.
Everything you do seems to be amplified x 10. The smallest remark offends someone in a huge way. The smallest oversight becomes the reason why things can’t move forward, or why people lose faith in you. The quietest remark to someone is broadcasted to everybody in your organisation or business (and even beyond the outside of your organisation). The difficult decisions that require you to balance what you know in your heart to be right versus what you may feel you have to do in certain circumstances to make things work. The multiple axes of consideration in weighing up the right action for specific challenges, for which there are no specific solutions, just possibilities in a field of endless grey potentialities, and somehow you have to hold it all together while the ‘best practice’ solution declares itself. You’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. Despite your best efforts, you can inadvertently end up becoming scrutinised, and have opinions formed about you, even by people you may not have ever met, or spoken to face to face. And yet, despite the uncertainty of the next step, you make a decision and forge forward.
Being a leader is difficult, however, for that same reason can be very rewarding. Please let me know about some of your more challenging experiences and how you found your way through them.