Monday, November 01, 2004

To my manager, may my true intentions dawn on you should you ever read this. As much as I dissect and criticise you, I can never express my gratitude for the opportunities you’ve given and not given me; the admiration for your leadership skills as a manager and as a man and most of all for the life’s lessons I’ve learnt from the time I’ve worked under you which otherwise might’ve been taught but not fully understood…


What It Takes To Be A Leader.

“Of course you don’t know everything… if you did, you’d be an engineer”
This is what my manager considers to be a funny joke… personally I think it’s like of those black beer adverts where the black humour is only found funny by him and his fellow engineer colleagues.

How often are you lucky enough to evaluate your boss?

I couldn’t hide the smile that stretched from one ear to the other when my manager handed me an eight-page evaluation to do exclusively on his persona. Suddenly little horns grew on the sides of my head and the word “pay back” must’ve been plastered on my expression because he nervously picked at his collar and conveniently reminded me that if ever he was fired, I would be fired too… That didn’t deter my spirits though and I left his office with more enthusiasm than I had in weeks.

REVENGE Baby, here was my chance to put down on paper exactly what I thought of him! I rubbed my hands in sheer satisfaction…
Knowing that he would see my score but not know which was mine was comforting. This meant I could judge him any way I saw fit! I had nothing to lose and everything to gain from evaluating the man that leads my team.
However, it took my much longer to fill in than I expected. To be sincere, you have to counter-weigh many circumstances and I was surprised to find that it was much harder evaluating him than I thought.

Taking the dilemma home with me for the weekend, I decided to fill it in after a hike with my group of adventure seekers. Every two weeks on a Sunday, we take out our hiking boots and go adventuring into the greens of Madeira Island. We go with a team of men who organise these hikes not as a full time job, but as something on the side simply because they love what they do. Although they have a professional licence to organise these walks, none of them had been given any formal training besides the usual safety course required by law. Whilst contemplating my manager’s evaluation, I looked unto these men for hints of leadership.

Before we left town, everyone was checked for the right gear. Ladies with open shoes were sent back or told to put on boots or sneakers. Everyone was checked for water and impermeable jackets. Flashlights were checked and we were advised to take a candy bar in case of tension drops. We were reminded to stay close to a friend and to stop whenever we wanted to look around us this to avoid getting lost or falling over a cliff whilst chasing a butterfly (you’d be surprised at the trouble tourists get themselves into!). Equipment was double-checked, roll call was taken and a couple of safety hints were repeated on the bus. Once getting off the bus, hiking sticks were given to those who wanted or needed them and we were told not to venture off without a guide. Two team leaders lead the “faster” walkers, another two walked in the middle and the last two walked behind making sure that no one was left back. I was amazed at their “silent” organisation. The group in front walked at a speedy pace to satisfy their more fit members, however whenever they felt that they were too far ahead, they would “suggest” that people picked up nuts, stop to tell a story of this and that mountain or simply crack a few jokes forcing people to slow down. The medical kit was found with the two members in the middle who at a call of a colleague could run forward or backwards to give fast medical treatment. I was told that their kit was complete with everything from an asthma pump to allergy shots and bandages. “The brooms” are the nicknames given to the last two of the team who make sure that they walk with the slower members of the group. Making sure not to hurry them but making them fast enough to keep up with the group. Without feeling any kind of pressure, a group of 56 people managed a hike that took seven and a half hours at their own desired pace.

Where did these men get their organisational skills? With no particular training, they probably have what it takes to lead a major international company… and why not? Don’t they have the basic training that it takes to lead a team?

My manager doesn’t believe in the school of life. I was once told that even the worse of engineers leave school with the capacity to resolve problems and that the school of life leaves many bums on the street…

I was told that I should never disagree with my boss… I disagree with that.

If a man is a bum on the street then it’s because he happened to flunk Life’s educational system and should he choose to take the class again and learn, then he has every chance of making it out there as any of us. Being a college or university graduate doesn’t guarantee any engineer or doctor the capacity to resolve problems… with the education they received, they are obligated to resolve problems or their certificate is worth nothing more than an A4 white piece of paper.

A manager who is wise enough to motivate the younger and more ambitious of his group will walk at their fast speed and will know when and how to slow them down without cramping their growth or damp their enthusiasm. He will always have a back up plan in the middle and the stronger elements behind the company, making sure that they push the slower or weaker elements of the group to keep up the pace. No one is left behind and the strongest leaders go in front, taking the risks of putting their “foot in the mud” before anyone else. Strong motivation is needed when leading the group uphill, not letting the elements stop and quit but moving slow enough to let even the most exhausted keep up with the team. Sharing knowledge is the only key to immortality. Jokes are just important as the recognition and a good leader knows when to reprimand the member that needed a good shove in the right direction. At some stages, some of the faster walkers slow down or fall behind… but a true leader doesn’t slow down the other, nor does he worry about those who loose motivation. He knows that they still belong to the group and that at their own pace, they will get to the same destination as everyone else.

I wished that I could share my discovery with my manager at that moment, but he has never been a great fan of walking and all the leadership skills he ever learnt came from a classroom and textbooks.

Staring at a complete evaluation of my boss, I was surprised at the knowledge I had gotten from this opportunity. I decided to evaluate, not by my standards but by his standards… in other words, not thinking as “he should’ve done better” but “did he do the best he could”. Most of all, I was surprised at the qualities that I myself had not given enough recognition to. The fact that he isn’t a judgemental leader, that he tries to be comprehensive, that he isn’t one to yell or shout and that he isn’t one to pay attention to gossip or slander: are traits that should be commended. Not once has his personal life walked into the office with him, nor has he ever sworn or disrespected his team members. This of course did not make me overlook his lack of recognition, understanding of tasks, lack of control and need of organisation. However, I evaluated him accordingly and handed in my scores with a clear conscience.

It takes a lot to be a leader, perhaps much more than most of us are willing to give of ourselves. A true leader is the one who defends and protects his team whilst teaching and learning from them. A true leader is the one who takes risks and decisions thinking not of himself, but of the good of the team.

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