Saturday 17 November 2007

Who’s the boss?

Everyone wants to be a boss. Everyone has had this thought at some point in his or her life. But have we really thought this through carefully? Being a boss is not easy. Because, fundamentally, if you want to be a good boss then you need to stop wanting to be a boss. Confused? Read on. First of all, the word boss itself is a horrible word. I hate it. The real word should be leader. Yikes! Are we saying that being a boss means that you have to lead people? Wow, this sounds like hard work. This sounds like too much responsibility. And secondly, being a leader means that if you are good at it then you will work yourself out of a job. But this is the whole point! Being a leader means that you grow people in effort to make them independent, not dependent. As Ralph Nader once said, "The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not followers."

Parents are leaders. They lead their children with the sole mission of creating independent decision making adults who will one day become parents themselves. And this is the continuing cycle that has created me, you, and all of us. Sure, it has its challenges, and yes it is often not easy to understand, but the principle is straightforward. Leaders are meant to listen to the people they lead. They are meant to teach them how to be effective and how to communicate. They are meant to grow them. They are meant to guide them. And they are meant to help them to discover what their strengths and weaknesses are. Leaders ultimately facilitate a journey of discovery for the people they lead. All of us need to discover what we are good at and what we need help with. And we need to play up to our strengths. It is those leaders who exploit their strong points that gain respect. And those who try to be someone they are not generally end up with negative results.

Managing people is about leadership. Many philosophers have said that we manage things and lead people. So many people speak of wanting to be a manager. What they really want is to do is to control things. And people are not things. People do not want to be controlled. People want to think and feel. People want to be heard and they want to tap into their ideas and imaginations. People want to be respected and people want to belong. This is what all of us need. People need to be affirmed. And managing people like objects does not result in positive situations. Being a manager, or a boss, means that you will need to lead people. And like a parent, a leader in business needs to facilitate growth in the people he or she leads.

I always ask new people who join Internet Solutions the following question, "Who do you work for?" Many of them say that they work for themselves. Some of them say they work with each other. And some say they work for me. One day someone said, "Actually, you work for me." That was a very enlightened moment. And it was a day of profound realisations. Parents work for their kids. And I work for the people I lead in the company I represent.

Leaders work for the people they lead. When a new person joins our company someone needs to show that person the ropes. Someone needs to organise that person a desk, chair, telephone and a computer. Someone needs to organise that person new business cards and so on. Someone needs to educate that person as to how the company operates. Someone needs to share with that person the company’s visions and values. Someone needs to guide that person. Someone needs to do quite a bit of work for that new person.

When a baby is brought into the world someone has to start working more. Again, parents work for their children. And a great part of this work, as for leaders in a business, is developing leadership abilities in those young, impressionable minds, until one day, those people can go forth, or fifth, and be leaders themselves.

I think many people are living a script in the world today that describes a situation whereby a boss sits down on his or her backside while others do all the work. Perhaps a hundred years ago this was the case. But less so today. How come so much wealth is being created so rapidly in these times? Why is the rate of change so incredible in this past decade? How come businesses are growing at faster and faster rates? Perhaps the world is starting to embrace a new way of thinking when it comes to leadership. And perhaps the paradigm shift that has taken place in the last century has resulted in a more empowered person with a greater sense of resolve.

So, what about bossy leaders? Well, there are many of them around. And as paradoxical as this sounds, I think that most leaders I have met are pretty bossy. They need to listen more. But let's leave that for a rainy day. Listening is perhaps one of the most difficult skills to master. Especially for a leader who gets so caught up with their own ideas that they forget that others may have something to contribute. Great leaders listen better than most.

Posted by Ronnie Apteker