It is almost 1 pm. The person with the microphone is going on and on explaining why the policy should say “may” instead of “should”. I am getting bored. My friend Meja is seated next to me. He is also half listening. He keeps nudging me and asking “Is this policy even necessary? We should let Executive Committees have some discretion in the way they do things.” Eventually, he raises his hand and makes this point. Nobody takes notice, so he turns his attentions to the financial statements, which will be up for discussion later. He tries to explain to me that something is wrong with Receivables but I just stare at him blankly. Financial statements pass over my head like Russian jets. I think I should marry an accountant to remedy this defect. But I will be watching to see if she will sneak Receivables in the house budget.
Anyway, as people were discussing the policy, and as Meja chewed the financial statements, I saw my phone blink. A text message.
“Hey, can we meet outside immediately?”
It was my deputy in a team I lead. We had agreed a while back to hold this committee meeting today, but I have been toying with the idea of eluding it. I had spent lots of time on phone the preceding week trying to get a consensus on certain issues, and it was getting to me. I did not want to have to deal with any more issues. In fact, there were days I would just lie on my bed and ask myself:
“Edward Maroncha, what did you get yourself into? Why did you have to accept to lead this team?”
I would imagine how easy life would be as an ordinary member of the team. I mean, just attending meetings and doing what I am told. When there are challenges I wouldn’t be bothered because there are leaders to deal with it. And I complain if they don’t. But then I would remember the lovely people I lead. The passion they have for the team. And these are people I genuinely like. This would make me repent for regretting leading them. And I would be fired up to face whatever other challenges faced the team.
Anyway, on this particular day I picked my phone and crafted a sneaky response.
“Woi, I am not even around the church. I am attending an AGM in Parklands. But if it is important I could come.”
“No, it’s okay. It’s not important, you don’t have to come,”
I instantly knew it was not okay. We had agreed to hold this meeting. And I was being difficult. Thing is, I have a very supportive deputy, but she is also my friend so I can tell when I am pushing the limits, even without her having to tell me.
“Okay, convene the meeting. I will be there in 10 minutes.”
Meja had stepped out. So I went and sat next to another friend I had not seen in a while and explained to him that I had to leave. He said I couldn’t go because there was an agenda that was coming up that I needed to be there to contribute to. I asked him what the agenda was and he didn’t say. So I told him I had a meeting I needed to chair urgently.
“Why can’t you delegate?”
“Because there are decisions that need to be made and I need to be there”
“No, you can always delegate and stay”
He was holding my hand and blocking my path with his leg. I know this friend of mine can be stubborn when he wants to, but I suspect he underestimated my resolve. See, I have the appearance of an easy guy. Easy smile, ready laughter. I try to keep out of confrontations as much as possible. And so it catches many by surprise when I put my foot down over certain things. But those who have dealt with me will tell you that I can be as stubborn as a tired donkey in Kiritiri. And this was one such day. I had made up my mind I was going, and there was no room for persuasion. So I just stood up without a word, pushed him aside and left. Just like that.
We held the meeting, and made whatever decisions that needed to be made. It went easier than I thought, and we needed only an hour to reach the decisions. See, in every leadership post I have held, it sometimes it can be difficult. Especially when team members hold hardline positions and are unwilling to compromise. Or those other frustrating moments when everyone is staring at you and not talking. And you have to alternate between sweet talking and bullying for anything to get done.
Leadership is an honor and privilege. True. But it is also a huge responsibility that requires sacrifice. And the problem with many of us today is that we want the privileges that come with leadership, but are unwilling to take the responsibility. We want titles. We want honor. But we do not want to get our hands dirty.
I try my best to help my boss build the firm. I work hard. I meet my deadlines. I read widely to increase my knowledge base. I do share my ideas on the progress of the firm with her. I give her feedback on her own ideas. But the thing is, I do not spend sleepless nights wondering whether clients will pay on time for salaries to be processed. She does. I do not fret about office rent, electricity bills, water bills etc. She does. I do not have to deal with difficult landlords. She does. It’s her call. She gets the privilege of telling me and the others what to do, and carries the burden that comes with that privilege.
Now, if I became Managing Partner today, I would not expect that life would be the same, but with extra privileges. You know, more money. Associates and interns to give instructions to. Corner office. All coming from a certain genie that mints money for the firm. No, at that level I would know that sacrifices would have to be made. Having more employees means getting more work and getting the clients to pay. It also means being ready to deal with squabbling employees having jealousies related to office romance. It means dealing with difficult clients who are making life miserable for the associates. Basically, it would mean that I would no longer have the privilege of forgetting the office immediately I step out in the evening. Because most likely there would be one or the other problem nagging my mind. Sacrifice.
But perhaps the most difficult thing a leader has to do is making decisions. Now, there are routine decisions that are easy to make. But every now and then an organization is in a crisis. And this is when the resolve of a leader is tested. It is at that point you wish someone else would carry the burden. The moment you feel like you should drag in someone else to share the blame if things go wrong.
I can only imagine what Harry Truman was thinking when he ordered the atomic bombing of Japan in 1945. Or Winston Churchill when he became Prime Minister in 1940 to face a belligerent Adolf Hitler. But the thing is, it calls for a resolve. A decisive mind, where you just decide what has to be done, and do it, whatever the consequences.
And for me one of the tough calls is telling off people. You know, people who are being difficult and need to be made to toe the line. And sometimes these are people you like. They may be people you are friends with at a personal level. Or they may be people with considerable influence in the team. But as a leader you need to put your foot down and do what needs to be done.
We seek and accept leadership positions all the time. But the question is whether we know the cost of what we are getting ourselves into. Whether we are getting married, getting into politics or taking any managerial position, the question is whether we have estimated the price we will be called upon to pay. Because sometimes we get in there with pink sunglasses. And when the first challenge comes, we crumble. It is important to estimate the cost, and be ready to pay it when called upon.