The Pains of Leadership

This is just a personal take of the world around me…

Being a leader (be it for paid or volunteer work) can be very fulfilling.  But just like parenting, it is not without its heartaches.

These are common accusations people have against their leaders:

  1. Accused of unfairness: Team members do not know or do not believe that the leader has put in painstaking effort to observe, gather intel, pray over and think through matters objectively/fairly/thoroughly before assigning tasks to members accordingly or making promotion plans / providing recognition.
  2. Accused of not spending sufficient time with members: Team members often overlook that leaders are humans too with their own families and other friends and that many leaders usually have many other commitments in life too.  As humans, they also need their down-time to rejuvenate.  They also face the same limit of 24 hours each day.
  3. Accused of “eating snake” (a Singaporean slang for “skiving”): Networking with external parties is required to help get things moving.  It takes time and energy to build and maintain such relationships.  Networking is something that members sometimes don’t understand but accuse the leader of simply enjoying themselves when everyone else is hard at work.  Reading magazines, newspapers, surfing the internet is also another accusation which I have received before.  In a world that is advancing relentlessly, keeping in touch with related events is important in planning the next moves and decision making when problems crop up.  Relevant news does not automatically drop on your lap… you need to spot it.  Besides spotting them from the  media, spotting it from interactions with people is also very possible.  Hence, the view that bosses are always going out with “friends” and reading newspaper.  What many don’t see is the tumultuous chains of thoughts that is churning in his/her head while apparently having tea or reading the paper calmly.
  4. Accused of poor communication: Team members often overlook that leaders are normally involved in more than just a few projects, depts, committees, on top of personal commitments.  Information overload and competing priorities are more challenging for leaders than for those without people to lead.  It is inevitable that leaders forget to share info, simply cannot find the time to, or over-filter their info for fear of overloading the team unnecessarily.
  5. Accused of giving ever-changing instructions or directions: It is very common for people to not realise that leaders have another leader to report to.  And that senior leader may be the one who is fickle. OR Circumstances simply changed and plans thus have to change.
  6. Accused of by-passing his/her deputies: Going through layers of management takes time and information sometimes get warped intentionally or unintentionally.  When time and accuracy is of the essence, leaders sometimes have to by-pass their deputies in order for things to move fast.
  7. Accused of not being open: Information about ongoings in and around the dept/team/group is sometimes held back to protect other people, not the leader.  People are protected so that they are not judged by other members and are thus able to move on in life.
  8. Accused of cruelty: Problems have to be nipped in the bud before any “diseases” spread.  This may sometimes mean that leaders have to ask a person to leave the group.  Coaching and mentoring can be done outside of the group, without the group’s knowledge, to help this person change, provided he/she is willing.
  9. Accused of not leading and managing well: Human beings are complex creatures.  It is never easy to lead people, more so with adults who tend to have hardened hearts and fixated mindsets.  But having said this, most leaders are truly not good leaders.  Good leaders are few and far in between.  Yet, we need more leaders than we actually have to keep things running.  Hence, the many poor leaders around.  To ensure that we only have the best leaders, we cannot grow too fast.  But is society willing to slow down?  So… don’t blame leaders for being lousy.  Blame greedy humans for wanting to “progress” at an unnecessarily quick pace.
  10. Accused of making unpopular decisions: What is popular is not always right.  And what is right is sometimes not beneficial.  What is beneficial is sometimes not well-received/supported… and the cycle continues.  Decisions are never easy for leaders to make.  And members who only spend all their energy and efforts complaining and opposing/rebelling drains the leader’s energy.  The more a decision affects the psyche of humans, the harder it is to make.

A leader must be able to tolerate all of the above accusations and still love his/her people and continue to do his/her best for them impartially.

Before you think it is cool to be a leader and want to be one, be prepared for all of the above and more.

Leadership v.s. Management

If your aim is only to meet operational, monetary goals or the likes (i.e. nothing to do with the lives of other people), then you are merely managing people and things so that goals are met.  Challenges faced by managers are probably similar to those of leaders – the difference is that managers don’t care about their people; people are used to achieve personal or organisational goals; people are seen as assets and tools.  Grooming of people is equivalent to the upgrading of machines or software.  The intent is different.

Leadership and Management

If you always thought that leadership = management and don’t understand why some courses or books talk about “Leadership and Management”, I hope what I have just shared helps clear the air.  They are fundamentally different although they appear the same.  If you still do not get the difference, let me try another way of explaining it before I sign off: A great leader loves to mentor/disciple others to become greater than them whereas a great manager has no interest in playing the role of a mentor.

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