I was passing through Kuwait on my way to Iraq a few years ago when I noticed a message for incoming troops stenciled on a concrete barrier. The serpentine placement of the obstacles forced traffic to a very slow crawl, which allowed incoming soldiers the opportunity to soak in the information. In bold letters someone painted the phrase “We need leadership, not likership.” I have never forgotten those words. I keep them in a special notebook called “Well intended but stupid ideas”.
One could make a very compelling argument that we live in a society lacking civility. You need only make a visit to your airport to observe this crude and rude behavior. I often wonder how these people act at home or at the office? Do they put their feet on the walls? Do they leave trash on the floor for someone else to pick up? Do they speak to their employees (subordinates of course) like they complain to flight attendants, janitors and baggage handlers? It is pretty tragic. Is there anyone who actually enjoys working with or for someone they find this repulsive and mean? Of course not, it is anathema to the acceptable norm. Yet somehow there are those who believe that these types of actions are acceptable and actually correct. How do we fix this? It is simple; it is leadership. Ergo, likership is a crucial ingredient in leadership development.
There are a couple of common myths that try to counter this argument about likership or likability. The first and most simplistic is that if you are friendly with your subordinates then you will be less inclined or even incapable of holding them accountable or responsible for their own actions. This is a disingenuous friendship at best if a subordinate would leverage that relationship. Clearly if a “leader” was not able to differentiate between personal and professional decisions then he or she really isn’t a leader anyway. The other argument is that inexplicably a friendly and likeable person somehow is incapable of being a) taken seriously or b) able to lead. At the risk of egregious namedropping, my rebuttal to that argument is to spend a few minutes with GEN Stanley McChrystal. His pedigree is stout and he introduces himself as Stan. He is likeable.
I do not in any way suggest that at times the interactions we have professionally (be it leader-to-follower, follower-to-leader or peer-to-peer) do not sometimes get heated. Of course they do, and those exchanges are rarely fun for one or all of the unfortunate participants. However, those interactions should be the exception rather than the rule.
The Data Leader deals with complexities unlike many I have ever experienced. He or she routinely must handle (or referee) scores of competing personalities. He or she must monitor solutions where the lead or center of gravity moves from person to person, team to team or even client to client. Consider the challenge of multiple teams with multiple solutions for multiple problems, which ultimately will be solved during a project that will take years with literally millions of pieces of data to be managed, organized and governed. It’s a herculean task to lead and manage in this hyper-complex structure.
Consider the man hours spent together in this crucible. Also consider that in these projects time really is money. And quality time is necessary for efficacy. How do we get there? Our workplace will never be free of stress nor will our employees ever be able to leave their stresses from home at home or vice versa. It’s called life. We don’t want a push over standing in front of us by any means; we want some one to be in charge. And, we really don’t need to be your best friend anyway; we just want to have a civil and hopefully enjoyable experience delivering our product to you in a mutually respectful environment. Respect goes both ways. Someone has to control and nurture this environment. Likership will go a long way for the good of all of us.