In Over my Head?

I just read a refreshing article by Bob Anderson. Anderson writes about how much he doesn’t know about leadership, and how in many instances, he is in over his head. He writes about the disparity between consultants and business people, but also how he just feels overwhelmed at times. That’s a gutsy article to write for a consultant/CEO, but I am sure we can all empathize with that feeling. It seems the more I study leadership, the more I realize how little I actually know. Just when I think I’ve got some aspect of leadership figured out, another viewpoint or situation emerges, and I feel like I’m back to zero again. Maybe that’s why the topic fascinates me so much.

Why is theory so separate from practice? I sometimes feel torn two ways, as a Doctoral student (and now a blogger), I can write about anything I want, and once-in-a-while, even pass myself off as an expert. But as a manager with employees, I am nowhere near an expert. It’s tough to actually lead people; it’s much easier to write about leading them. I think of Jim Collins’ oft-quoted analogy of getting people on and off the bus, and into the right seats on the bus. It’s a brilliant metaphor, and is something organizations should probably take to heart as part of their long-term strategy. Of course, few of us who praise this metaphor actually consider how ruthless it is, and consider the people involved in carrying it out. It is heart-wrenching to sit across the table from someone and fire them or lay them off, because the organization considers them to not be suited for their “bus”. The movie Up In the Air illustrates some of the struggles involved in this. Ignore the soap opera relationships and this movie is really about the struggles of HR professionals justifying their role in layoffs. I wonder if Mr. Collins has ever had to do that personally? Trust me, it’s not fun.

Anderson writes about the ‘4AM Club’, where leaders lie awake at 4AM wondering if they have what it takes to do the job or wonder what the next move is. He is brutally honest, but perhaps we need more leaders like Anderson who are willing to say “I don’t know” rather than leaders who promote themselves. Perhaps we would have fewer leadership failures if our leaders were willing to reach out publicly and say they need their team, because their team compensates for their own lack of leadership capacity. Maybe. Or maybe I’m just another idealistic grad-student writing about the hypothetical rather than the practical.

Anderson, B. (2010, October). Confessions of a reluctant businessman: In over my head?. Integral Leadership Review, 5. Download Article here.

One thought on “In Over my Head?

  1. Hey Tim, thanks for so courageously putting your thoughts out there. Your post left me thinking that there might be some kind of newly defined role for one that is both theorist and and on the ground…”consultant-practioner” (I’m too much of a sleepy mommy to come up with anything more sexy than that right now)? The truths of leadership seem to come in that in between space.

    An MBA was enough for me to learn the theories (although the learning junkie in me will head back for some studies in OD when my life allows for it) of leadership and my heart is much more in the trenches of putting it all into practice. All the same, both roles are important as is the dialogue between the two. Thanks for leading us in that conversation…

    And on another note, you being one of the few HR/Leadership people in my personal network, I thought you might be interested in knowing that the organization I work for – Mennonite Savings and Credit Union was just named as one of the Top 50 Best Small and Medium Enterprises to work for. I’m extremely proud of that accomplishment…

    Best Regards,
    Director of HR & OD, Mennonite Savings and Credit Union (on maternity leave til May 2011)

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