Monday, January 23, 2012

Memoir Monday: The Kingdom of Confidence

Despite a history of chronic uncertainly and endless self-questioning, I have often tended to rise to positions of leadership. Not because of overwhelming charisma or undimmed optimism, but because I always have a plan. I've twice served as a foreman on a jury, for no better reason than I was good at organizing discussion and keeping things on track. It's amazing how readily people will respond to someone who seems to know what he's doing, even if that someone is a barking idiot. (Washington DC, I am looking in your direction.) I am not a barking idiot, I hope, but in any case I'm often trusted to run whatever needs running.

I never felt quite comfortable with being in charge, though. Not because I didn't enjoy it, but because I always felt as though I wasn't exercising authority in the right way. Should I be tough? Conciliatory? Distant? I didn't know, so I was always on the lookout for the answer.

Back in the 90s I was working at a mid-sized law firm, performing conflict checks, maintaining the case database and running various reports, etc. Not a bad job, if truth be told, and I was pretty good at it; so good, in fact, that I was heavily relied upon by one of the managing attorneys. (We'll call him Matt.) I spent a good portion of each workday in his office, explaining a report or taking as assignment. One day, when I came to his office I found Matt on the phone, and when I made to move off he waved me in and to a chair. The speaker was on so I could follow both sides of the conversation, and it seemed that one of Matt's subordinates was unhappy and taking it out on his boss. I held my tongue but wondered to myself why Matt was taking this kind of crap from an underling.

Matt, however, never broke a sweat. He nodded and um-hmmed while the guy on the phone carped and complained, but by the end of the conversation Matt hadn't lost his temper, raised his voice...or budged one inch. When that phone call ended, the guy on the other end of the line gave Matt exactly what he wanted, while I stood by amazed.

That was when I understood that real authority is not a crown, which sparkles and demands attention from everyone who sees it. It's a normal suit of clothing, which you might pick out with great care when you're dressing, but which you forget about approximately ten minutes after you don it. Everyone else knows you're dressed, of course, but later most would be hard-pressed to say what you'd worn that day. Bad leaders wear a crown because they need to remind others who's in charge; good leaders are confident everyone already knows it. The key word there is confidence. If you know you're in charge, that is often enough for others. Strange, but true.

So now when I'm called upon to run something – a work project, an Ultimate team – I try to think more about the plan and worry less about the rest of it. If people will follow the clueless bozos they send to Washington every two years they'll follow me, and I don't even have to win an election to know it.


Blogger greengreyeyes said...

Well said!

7:12 PM  

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