When I first started building software for the big companies I was quickly told what to do and how to do it and where I stood (or sat) in the corporate structure (and I started early, 15 years old…).
And, for a time (a very short time) I was okay with this because I was learning what it meant to “clock in” and “clock out” and earn my pay as a corporate employee.
Quickly, though, I began to become aware of the dysfunction that was swirling all around me. Not all of it impacted my productivity and happiness but there was definitely enough that did and I began to ask questions.
Some of these questions were single-serve and were easy to answer by my colleagues and my manager and supervisors as they were tactical in scope and a short and brief explanation with just enough context sated me.
But as the questions became more strategic in nature I began to notice a distinct pattern. Instead of owning the problems (and the potential solutions) my colleagues and superiors would start to point fingers and sometimes all I’d get would be something like: “This is a leadership issue, John.”
Leadership, as far as I could tell, was messy and ugly and generally impaired. But I was wrong and as I grew into leadership roles I was surprised to discover that leadership is, above all else, distinctly messy and that messy doesn’t always mean dysfunction.
What it really means, in many cases, is that something is in progress. And if you look at anything “in progress” you’re going to see something messy before you see anything rational or reasonable.
Just like dropping in on an artist mid-stroke you’re just going to see something in motion and leadership is a lot like that. Only later do we see the genius moves and the genius decision-making that was happening in real-time. Only in hindsight, really.
I’m far less critical of a mess when I see one now than when I first started working. In fact, there’s something humbling and exciting about being a part of it when it’s barely more than messy.