Saturday, January 29, 2005

Follow The Leader´

On my recent trip to Porto, I was stunned to see that someone else agreed with me when I said that Portugal had a lot to learn in terms of business and professionalism. The man who was to teach me Sales and Negotiation skills was the first to say that in Portugal we had plenty of Doctors, Engineers and Managers but few real leaders. I once considered my manager to be the best at what he did, I once believed that I couldn’t ask for a better boss… today I believe differently.

With time we all learn that most of the things we belief in depend on our perspective and we find that things aren’t always as they seem. I once believed that everything could be resolved with communication, and that conversation was the key to sort out any problem. I finally discovered why politicians talk and talk but say nothing, making their conversation nothing more than a waste of words. And how talking to someone like this is as fruitful as trying to communicate with a wall.

I am not a leader, although born to the first sign of the zodiac, I am the first to say that I am not prepared take a position of leadership. This is because I’m aware of what the position requires and I’ve always believed that one only accepts the position that one is capable of filling. It’s the heavy and delicate duty that a leader is responsible for that makes me respect the position and admit that it will take a lot of time and growing before I myself can one day take upon such a responsibility.

What is a leader? And what does it take to become one? I may not be the best person to answer this question; however there are qualities I recognize as being those belonging to one. A leader is the person who thinks for his team rather than himself. He knows how to bring out the best in each individual, by praising the talents and helping to improve their weaknesses. The best leaders know how to listen to their team, not allowing himself to be manipulated by their desires but acting according to the team’s best interests. Strong, patient and strict, a leader knows how to stick to the original goal, able to always keep his team motivated. He knows when to push them harder and when to give them a break, a leader is the person who holds himself responsible for the best interests of his team.

No man is perfect, no person lives without failure and there are times when our leaders disappoint us and make the wrong decisions. These are the times that we realize that they’re human and that our responsibility as followers is to also motivate and support the one who holds our wellbeing at heart. Men should be held more accountable for their motives rather than their actions; this makes it easier to forgive a real leader who acts only on the behalf of his team’s best interests.

Respecting the man who gave me the position in the company that I work for today, I carefully prepared my speech, realizing that it would not be easy to get across the needs of me and colleagues. Times are tough, and we need changes and new conditions to respond to the market’s needs. Spending countless hours carefully choosing my words and finding the numbers that managers respond to, I knew that there was no way I could’ve better prepared myself for what needed to be said. But what do you do when words are not enough? When the person wish to communicate with refuses to let you talk, ignores your important arguments and refuses to listen to carefully acquired numbers and information?

Refusing to cry, I looked at my manager with a pair of different eyes. For over two years, I’d realized that he was not the leader I imagined him to be, yet I believed with the right words and attitude; one could help him evolve into one. I realized by his attitude that he did not wish to be changed or improved, in fact, the best interests of his team is the furthest thing from his mind. As I watched him bulldoze over my argument, I remembered my dad’s words telling me that I would never be successful in talking my way into evolution with this man, who not only called me incompetent in front of my fellow work colleagues but also called me arrogant and rude when I had managed with numbers to show him how his reasoning was far from the answer we needed. I told him that my intention wasn’t to come out that way but he cut me off sarcastically saying that the world was full of good intentions. Shocked, I recalled all the late nights of work that I wasn’t paid for and the full weekend that I’d spent in the office without even having lunch so that I could go on holidays leaving my work completely resolved. Two full days that I could’ve spent with my dad instead. Yes, I have good intentions and I’m not about to change them because they don’t agree with him, shouldn’t my good intentions be molded into the good of the company instead of crushed in front of the rest of the team?

Some things just can’t be resolved diplomatically. Leaving the office to run straight to the airport, it was only in the embarking area when I finally sat down that the tears ran down my face. I sobbed uncontrollably to the disappointment and injustice of my manager’s attitude. Not once was I arrogant or rude so why call me that? How can I be incompetent when things are always trusted to my hands? My head spun with disappointment and frustration, all the words I used had been futile, used on deaf ears. I may not be a leader, but I know how to tell the difference between wrong and right and I know that it had been wrong for a man in a leadership position to behave the way he did.

I only stopped crying once reaching Lisbon, allowing the stranger next to me think that I hated flying and the air hostesses think that I was probably moving away from my beloved island. Deciding not to let anyone know the real reason for my tears, to me crying over work is an even bigger humiliation than crying over a man. And considering that I cry over the one, crying over the other seemed ridiculously embarrassing. Taking a deep breath, I welcomed the change of atmosphere to put my thoughts into place.

One has only two choices in life: to blend or rebel. To blend is to accept the rules, the given guidelines and to support the specified ideals. To rebel is to stand up for your beliefs accepting the fact that they will not be accepted by the system turning you into the public enemy and forcing you to live in conflict with those who wish to uniform you. My father says that to fit into any company, you have to be able to blend into the system. Even though we often have different opinions to the decisions that a company makes, I believe that we have to support the direction our team is going and give it our best for the good of the company. However, I am not prepared to work with a system that works against its employee’s best interests. Certain schemes are just unacceptable and supporting them means lifelong slavery for a system you don’t agree or believe in. You’re then once again left with two choices: Either you leave or you strive to change the system.

To leave is to risk finding the same system on the other side and to rebel is to risk being seen and treated as the enemy. This is where my zodiac sign shines the brightest and after much talk and support from those that love me and hold my best interests at heart, I’ve decided to fight the system, even when it is represented by a man that I can admire outside the office.

God help me to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change those that I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

Traveling the road less traveled on, means rough terrain and unpleasant surprises, yet it might take you to place no other roads can take you. Portugal is in my opinion thirty years behind in growth and mentality compared to it’s counterparts or even a considered third-world country such as South Africa. But what is the benefit of running? I was told to think of my future, to think of the greener grass on the other side but what difference do I make to those who stay behind? No man is an island, I do not live by myself and I believe that change starts with the person in the mirror. If I do not stand up and fight for what I believe in, who will? Who will change this country’s mentality? Who can improve my company’s system if no one stands to talk and bring up the real issues into the light? I realize that it’s impossible for a person such as myself to make such big changes on my own, but why should that stop me from trying? Didn’t London Bridge, the tower of Pisa, the Pyramids and even the statue of liberty start with one stone? How are things going to change if someone doesn’t strive to change them, even if I fail at least my efforts may leave an open path for other believers. At minimum, I will leave a dent in the system.

I do not wish do tell my grandkids who sit on my knee about how bad things were in my times; instead, I want to tell my grandchildren, what their grandmother at an age where she had the strength and youth to make a difference, actually did to try and improve things for herself and the people around her. Who knows, maybe one day, I’ll be worthy of being called a leader.

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