Leadership — 18

This post is part of Project: Inception, written ~8 years ago. It has been untouched from its original, pseudonymous, form. It is also part of the larger “farewell” tour and countdown as I turn-off this blog and head to the metaverse where I will live out the rest of my wonderful days. I hope to see you there!


Leadership is an interesting topic of conversation for me because I’m entirely confused by most of it. I’ve been told, many times over, that I am a “leader” – the founding issue isn’t the fact that I don’t like the generalized praise as I interpret it pretty much the same as I do when someone says “Hey, good job.” The issue is really in the fact that that they ascribe to me in terms of their definition of leadership is almost nothing like what I see as being true leadership.

And I would know better than most people – at one point in my life I became a student to leadership. Like many other things I became obsessed and purchased the top 30 leadership books every written and then probably a hundred or so more to gain insight and wisdom in this quality that the world held in very high regard (and that I apparently needed to advance my career). I read all of them, took copious notes, and then compared them empirically with what I’ve experienced and how I determined what leadership was and how it was practiced, implemented, and executed.

A major disconnect occurred and I began to loathe leadership books, leadership podcasts, leadership blogs, leadership-everything because everyone had an opinion but few actually practiced what they preached and very few actually did anything in the first place. Leadership books, though, were perhaps some of the greatest offenders. One would only need to add some context to any leadership book conversation that you may have had with someone who’s on a “leadership kick” and you would be able to easily deconstruct what really was happening.

I can remember how a new manager had just moved into our technology department and he was described as being a “real” leader who would do the impossible to revamp our particularly slumped part of the organization. In reality we were doing just fine but corporate leadership had created impossible goals that were (surprise) not realized in the previous quarter and it was time for a “re-organization” of talent. This new manager declared, very succinctly, that it was a leadership issue and he was right, but not in our department! The issue was with the people that hired him!

It wasn’t his fault but it quickly became his fault as he quickly brought the hammer and required all of us to start reading leadership books that had “radically transformed” his life. He described it as if this transformation was akin to a conversion story with Jesus Christ. I mean, it was “super hardcore,” which was one of his favorite phrases. I’m still not sure what that means, by the way.

He walks into one of the first meetings as being newly appointed and laid out the reading roadmap describing what he thought was important that we read and digest and even systematically discuss in yet another meeting. I probably should have shut my mouth but at this point I had had enough of all the leadership bullshit and shared my thoughts candidly.

Sir, I do not believe you know what you are doing nor do you even have a background in software technology. Our team, as I hope you already know, is doing amazing work and have nearly killed ourselves to meet the impossible demands of mass-ignorance from the rest of the enterprise. But that’s besides the point as right now you are asking all of us, who are really busy, to set aside time every single day to read books that I do not believe will impact us in the slightest. Allow me to put what you’ve stated into context for all of us for the greater good. You have selected 5 leadership books from authors that are coming from a variety of contexts and circumstances and experiences. There is, in fact, very little that overlaps with the five authors, all of which I have read. They were successful in their context and in their unique circumstance and withe their unique challenges. But it is foolish to believe that their way is the way and that leadership is, in any way shape or form formulaic. Not even these authors achieved success nor their leadership monicker from reading a book. They just did what they were asked to do and did it well.

I wasn’t liked very much after this addition to the conversation and I was easily ignored – although my bi-annual review had unusually low marks which was directly contradicted with my stellar historical performance record. I didn’t care that much except that my calculated yearly bonus and compensation increase wasn’t what I had hoped it would be. Oh well. Money never motivated me anyway.

What I had touched upon though became the real framework in which I saw leadership – true leadership is not only tough to define but it’s nearly impossible to imitate, especially via a book. And the mark of true leadership isn’t positional or some role on a org chart – it’s what you do that counts the most. It’s why, I believe, that most people consider me a leader not because I’m good at rallying crowds or telling people what to do (and hoping that they do it) but because I’m in love with what I do and I continually do great work.

Great leadership is most simply execution and being an example of doing great work, consistently, day-in and day-out. The rest is just details. Great leadership is self-management, working in a culture where autonomy and mastery exists. It’s where our creativity is allowed to freely roam about and dislocates any roadblock that might come in our path. I think the aspie creative is, in many ways, a model leader. We simply do our great work, obsessively so. We get down and dirty and in the weeds and get shit done. We come up for air occasionally and we may, if we’re aware enough, realize that people are watching and they may even start calling us “leaders.” You can take the mantle and title if you wish but it was never your goal and it was never mine either.

And if you aren’t a leader or struggle even with the idea of being a leader that’s ok. Most good leaders are shy of it as well. Most great leaders reject the 1,000,000 leadership books and know, intrinsically, that they create almost no value for them because they already know what the challenge is and what the solutions are – the difference is that they act, they go, they do. And in that way they lead because others follow.

You are a leader – you just may never have considered it. That’s ok as it’s better that way.