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11.23.2011

Leading is Living with Solitude

A short while ago, as I became COO, I was told,
"I am really curious to see who you decide to team up with."

Then, the very same person came back in two weeks to URGE me to pick my "side kick."

I figured this guy just doesn't get it.

To me, being a leader is about standing alone up front
or at the back;
wherever the buck stops. 
And that means ALONE.

Some wise man once asked:
"Have you ever seen statues of committees?"

It sure made me laugh.

Charismatic and powerful leaders make it very clear who the leader is.
And how decisions are made; and when decisions are made.

Decisions are not taken by faceless committees or behind closed doors through a vote.
(The Catholic church takes it to an extreme with the Conclave process... but then again, the cardinals are not allowed to come out until a decision is made, so I guess that is an exception.)

Ever since I was a child, my hero and ideal leader has been Napoleon Bonaparte I.

He was charismatic,
a workaholic,
and a man who was able to fight among the lowest ranking men
while taking ultimate responsibility for the strategic directions for his troops.

OK, one may say he had some raw luck with the woman he fell in love with,
but no one is perfect, right?

As a leader, I have a reputation for being tough but fair

As a young, aspiring manager, I was known for being rather ruthless with my "high standards" that I forced on everyone.
(At the time, it was hard for me to accept that my manager could give me a bad performance review for "having standards that are too high."This is a true story!)

Thanks to motherhood and age, I have become much more tolerant and less tenacious,
though I doubt anyone would call me a pushover or a softie.

In fact, I believe all managers should try to bring up a family - preferably with more than one child as children surely teach us a lot about about being better people, understanding how best to nurture and guide talent, and also to discipline both oneself and the children.

I know a leader who has the chutzpah, if that is the right word, to ask of his executive assistant,
"What do other CEOs do in a situation like this?"
or
"What should I do next?"

I am constantly making decisions - as that is what we all do - but I tend to believe that leaders need to do that alone.

The top guy has risen above his peers - that is why he is the top guy.

And living with solitude is part and parcel with - or rather, an integral part - of being a leader.

When I was working the diplomatic circuits, I was always blown away by how everyone seems to manage to keep track of who was sitting with whom at lunch or who was talking to who over coffee at every break and lunch!

That is because everyone knows that the real negotiations happen during coffee breaks and meals, not at the official negotiation tables.

In the same token, I am very conscious of how staff members keep track of who the leader takes out for lunch, coffee, or a smoke.

That is why I NEVER go out with the same people twice in a week.

Some days, I prefer just to go out on my own or with people from a different division or business to refresh my mind and reset my thinking.

Leading is a lonely business.
And often, the critics are louder than the supporters because as with many other jobs,
you are expected to keep things running smoothly, so there is no pat on the back for leading without a glitch for some time.
But the moment something goes wrong,
everyone has a field day pointing fingers at you.
And you have to bear that alone.

Perhaps that is why many entrepreneurial leaders like to run or compete in triathlons.
They are a great way to enjoy solitude and working with onself.

For me, once I slip into my dobok and tie that black belt around my waist,
everything else disappears.
It is a silent battle with myself in both the physical and mental sense.
Yes, in sparring, I have an opponent,
but during the two rounds of two minutes, I am fighting my fear, my fatigue, my doubts and
taking decisions in split seconds and getting feedback on the consequences of those decisions.

I appreciate and respect the fact that every man stands in the ring on his own,
his self doubt and any self restrictions being his worst enemies, not the opponent.

If there is any leader who can challenge me and prove me wrong about the need to live with solitude as a leader,
it would be a pleasant surprise and major eye-opener to be corrected.






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