I work as a rafting guide in Northern Italy, and being an Australian, the cultural differences can sometimes be interesting, if not amusing. Today I was asked to “work my special magic”, by the other guides. This involves the division of the clients into 6 man teams, not always an easy task. There was a group of 6 men and a group of 5 women that I had to mix together, as 5 lovely ladies just wouldn’t have had the necessary power to get the raft down the river. My “special magic” is my ability to divide them up quickly and without any drama, as most people are resistant to the idea – they want to raft with their friends. The other guides have big problems doing this, but it is their approach that is wrong.

I was thinking about this ability and how it pertains to leadership. Basically, the way that I approach this problem is not to convince them to do it, but to convince them to like it, or at least understand it. But at no point am I giving them a choice in the matter. If they have a choice on whether or not to do it, then there will be resistance to the idea and arguments. I merely try and make them like it or at least understand the need for it. In this case it was easy to make the boys like it, the girls I had to convince by means of explaining the safety issues behind the idea. Job completed in a couple of minutes though, and happy customers all round.

Sometimes when leading a guild, decisions have to be made. The trick is to decide and then talk the others through the idea, but with the same basic principle at hand – you’re not trying to get them to agree to do it, you’re trying to get them to agree to like it or at least see the necessity of it. Sometimes this approach may not be valid. Another way of achieving the same end result is to convince them that they have thought of the idea. Who cares who thought of it, as long as it gets done, right? Right?

Herein lies the problem. When people assume positions of authority, “… the corporal lurks in almost every bosom, and each man tends to use authority when he has it, thus destroying his natural relationship with his fellows …”

Most people are insecure of the decision-making process, and this is mostly due to the fact that they attach themselves to the decision in an emotional way. Thus if the decision or idea was a good one, then they are good, and if it was incorrect then they are bad. A few “bad” ideas in a row quickly reduces them to a nervous wreck, and the normal reaction is to begin to use their authority in a negative way.

The trick is to not use leadership as a means for personal acclaim. It is not important who is seen to be pushing an idea, the important thing is that it gets through. Do not attach yourself emotionally to decisions that you need to make. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, find out why, ask your officers to help you, ask for input so that next time it has a better chance of working. If someone comes up with a better idea them mine, then I am all for pushing it through. My life as a GM is made easier by good ideas and decisions being made. Often at an officers meeting on Vent, I will sit back and let them thrash out all the ideas, while putting a word in here and there. But at a certain point a decision will need to be made, so I will step in and make it. You can talk around an issue for only so long. Eventually something needs to be done.

But too often I have seen leaders who don’t want to decide things. They just want to make everyone happy. This isn’t your job. You are not a happiness coach, you are supposed to be a leader. So lead, decide and then convince. And if it turns out to be the wrong decision, admit that it was wrong and try something else. People don’t mind mistakes, but indecision can quickly become a problem. And don’t get emotional about this stuff. You’re a not a good person if the decision was the right one. You just happened to make the right one this time. Being a leader is about rising above your ego. You’re not out for acclaim, you’re looking for results to move things forward.

I asked one of the girls after the trip if she now understood why I had had to split them up. She still didn’t; some people you just can’t make understand. But that’s okay, the job was done. I probably shouldn’t have even asked her. But no matter how much we try and rise above it, sometimes we still want people to tell us that we’re good. I’ll have to do better next time.

The quoted text is from “The Ionian Mission” by Patrick O’Brian.

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