Thursday, January 07, 2010

Leadership Lessons Include Failure

Some people want to see you fail

from our Friends at The Apathy Myth: A Blog for America's College Student Leaders


There are people rooting against you. That's one of the unattractive realities of holding a leadership position. No matter how well-liked you are, how hard you work, how qualified you might be for your job – there will always be people who just aren't pulling for you.

Some of these people will be indifferent to your efforts. Nothing you do will impress them. Others will roll their eyes when you suggest an idea or show initiative. Some will trash you behind your back when talking to other members. Some will take a more active role and will attempt to undermine you in small or large ways.

Your detractors will come in all shapes and sizes. Some are people you thought were close friends once upon a time. Some are people you've clashed with before and never really liked. Others dislike you in spite of the fact that they've never actually had a conversation with you.

Their motivations are numerous. They might be jealous of you, or they might simply get enjoyment out of messing with you. Perhaps they have actual problems with your leadership style. Maybe they feel that there was someone better suited for the position. Maybe you offended them with a joke you told two years ago, and they can't get over it. They might hate the way you dress, or the tone of your voice. This can be very visceral, unexplainable stuff, and it often defies logic. They just don't like you, and they never will.

You can analyze it, agonize over it, complain about it, cry and scream at the unfairness of it all. Or, you can just get over it and move on to doing your damn job. Whether you were elected or appointed to your position, there will always be people who celebrate your shortcomings and errors.

Right after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, then-President Bush had approval ratings around 80-percent. These were historic highs. By and large, Americans rallied behind their president at a time of national crisis. But even at that amazing moment of national consensus, 20-percent – a fifth of Americans in opinion polls – still didn't like the president.

Even when they don't like you, they still are members of your constituency, and you have to do your best job to lead them. If you ran for office hoping for 100-percent approval and support, then it's time to bid farewell to the delusion. There's nothing you can do to control it, change it, or avoid it. You can lead them, you can do great things for your organization, in spite of them.

Do your job the best you can. Include everyone at the table. Make ethical decisions with the well-being of your organization front and center in your mind. Expect and admit your mistakes, and always keep your mind open for better ways to do things.

Learn to separate honest criticism from the silly, nasty stuff based in negativity. If you're looking for a dependable gauge of the quality of your efforts, find four or five fair-minded people in the organization (not your friends!) and check in with them regularly for feedback. Give these people permission to point out your areas for improvement, and respect them by demonstrating a willingness to fix mistakes along the way.

If you work hard and do the right thing, a beautiful moment awaits you about a year after you get done with your position. Someone you thought HATED you during your leadership term will come to you and thank you for all you did. It will blow you away when it happens. That feeling, at that moment, makes up for all the crap you tolerate from the detractors during your term.