Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Algebra or Calculus?

The great thing about traveling to for work is when you get to spend time in another country with people you don't normally get to spend time. The time difference, the stress of the unknown, and the lack of sleep is a powerful combination for creating some strong conversations.

One of my friends last night brought up the subject of leadership styles. Specifically, we were discussing how much help to provide people who are struggling. Do you provide them all the answers, and cover for their short-comings? Do you hold them accountable which invariably leads to some very upset and stressed individuals? Is there somewhere in the middle between direct involvement and letting them work things out for themselves?

We didn't necessary arrive at conclusions, and I don't think we were trying for any. It was more one of those casual conversations where you can see people working out what they think by talking and questioning.
To be in the weakest camp is to be in the strongest school.
- Heretics
For my own part, I think it very much depends on what is at stake in the endeavor. If very much is to be gained or the downside of failure isn't necessarily survivable, then stepping in with more direct involvement is probably warranted. On the other hand, as a matter of course, I tend to give people plenty of room to work things out themselves. Some might even say I give people too much wiggle room.

The funny thing about leadership is how different it can be than management. In some ways, managing people is much like solving an algebra equation. The variables are fairly limited and constrained so a solution is pretty easy to work towards regardless of how complicated it might at first appear. Contrast that with leadership which to my mind is more like doing calculus. You have to solve for multiple functions simultaneously and while the simple algebraic operations come into play, they are manipulated in much higher orders.

In any case, I do consider it a privilege to discuss these topics when approached. There is still much to learn and refine.

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