Leadership Talk #2 : When You’re in Charge

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One of the most confusing aspects of working in an organization when you’re starting out is being in charge of a process or people. Being in command of a process is easy; it’s just you and you talk with other departments to get things done. But when you have to get things done with a group of people that work for and report to you, that’s when life gets exciting. Each person has their own personality you must learn to deal with to get the job done. Some will be easy to work with; some will be the stick in the muds. You may even be scared of the idea of telling people what to do. Some people can’t wait to boss others around. Leadership is full of variables and extremes that make it look intimidating. But it’s not. Let’s break it down for you.

Leadership is loosely defined as the art of getting people to do things for you. That sounds like a slave/master relationship, but it’s not. It’s easy to get caught up in touchy\feely notions of class struggle and lording over people and feeling supreme along with the associated guilt for doing so. That’s Hollywood muddying the waters with our movies, and most of are not accurate when portraying leaders.

When you lead your department, you should be aware of three basic things:

1. You are in charge of the task and the people
2. You are responsible for the task and the PEOPLE
3. You must look after the needs of your people

The first one is always a given, and everyone likes the power. You are the boss, and people must follow you. Nothing happens without your say-so. I get the red shirt. But this is a double-edged sword.

The second one is not so obvious until the crap hits the fan. When things go down, the high ones come looking for YOU. You get the kudos, and you get the stick. If your people screw up, they will come to YOU, not them. If the task fails, it’s on you. If its successful, you get the high fives and pats on the back (just be sure to pass those down to your people as you would the bad stuff too). The reason nothing happens without you saying so is because you are responsible for it.

The third one sometimes never occurs to the leader, and that why they fail. Leaders must look after their people. They must give them the tools to do the job asked of them and look out for welfare. They smooth out the bumps in getting the job done and blast away log jams that prevent their folks from doing their tasks. They make sure they are fed and watered. They are a sympathetic ear, or a kick in the rear, depending on the situation.

Before I break for now, let me clear up one thing for you: When you are the charge, you don’t have to do what the group is doing. When you have a crew of six making widgets, you don’t have to be in there making widgets right along side them. So don’t feel guilty that you’re standing there watching them. What you do is be available for them if they have questions or need extra tools to make the widgets, and if they have ideas to make the widgets better, listen to those ideas and adopt them. You are their support link, and you need to step back and be the one with a clear head when there’re lots of things going on. The fog of war, as it were.

More on leaders later….

Okay, I’m back. To make this all clearer, Lets say you are going to run the cosplay department this year. Sounds scary doesn’t it? Not really. All you need is the basic confidence to get the job done (know yourself), some good friends who’ll help you get through it and like what they are doing (know your people), the tools at your disposal (know your resources) and a love for the art form you’ve chosen, cosplay (know your job). The first thing you need to do plans the job at hand. You can break down cosplay into three distinct sections:

– Posting the contest rules
– Taking in registrations either before or during the con
– Getting the contestants lined up for the stage

In all these tasks, one thing should be noted: YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO THEM ALL! The key to leadership is delegating these jobs to someone you can rely on to make it happen, then checking on them to see how they are doing. That’s called follow up.

Now as chairman, I have many people doing things they love to do in the convention. From Art Show to Video Gaming. With 17 departments, I could not do all these jobs, and it would be foolish to try. These folks runs those areas, and if they need something they can’t get, it gets channeled up to the board and me. If I don’t hear from them after a while, I do check on things in follow up to see what’s going on. That is what the entire staff infrastructure is doing on a constant basis, delegating and following up. And it works.

Back to Cosplay again. Each of these tasks is given to an individual, ideally someone who likes that part of the overall job. Got a person who can rack and stack people, there’s your stage coordinator. Got a body who likes admin stuff? There is your entry form handler. That person who’s really good at making costumes can handle your craftmanship judging. Find and use the best the talent for the job, preferably that they WANT to do the job. Once you have these people in place, your job gets easier.

Once you have had them working, don’t leave them alone. Stay involved with them by checking in to see how things are going and to find out if they need anything. Communication with your staff is an important part of leadership. Meet frequently to talk over ideas for the show and how make it run smoother. Use as much input as you can, but all should understand that the final decision is yours.

When you lead your group, don’t lead with browbeating and bluster. There is a place for it, but that is when the time is crucial and things have to happen NOW. Lead by request and guidance. Ever heard of micro-managing? That’s when the boss is all over you and even making decisions for you, and it’s not a good job model. That’s him telling you he has no confidence your ability to do the job. Avoid this at all costs. When you have people you can rely on doing what they like best, this should not happen.

Stand back and let them do their jobs. Let them have the space to grow and make mistakes. As long as they don’t cost the con money or waste a lot of time, it’s all good. AM after all is a management training incubator. Business training wheels. The key is meeting a deadline. Having said that, though, if it’s clear you have the wrong person for the job, change the task they do or if necessary transfer them out of your area.

Back with more next weekend…….We’ll talk more about standing back and letting the sparks fly.

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