I started the week with some fine intentions. Get ahead, keep on the plan, and let people have their victories so I could get what I wanted as well. Win/Win isn’t just a principle; it’s a trading strategy for those of us who wield little influence, power, or authority to get what we need to protect those that we serve.

Unfortunately my plan did not survive first contact with the week. By the end of a very late Tuesday I found myself wrestling with a very different sort of logistical problem. We had a system down, a system we think is fairly important to the business. It was, in all likelihood, going to stay down for some time. Not only did we have technical problems with it, which we did and probably still do to some extent, but it’s not well liked at the site where it went down. Given its history there I can hardly blame the site; I’ve met more stable things gibbering to themselves in the late night corners of really bad conventions.

So, what to do? By the time I found out about the problem we were six hours into troubleshooting it. I could tell it would consume my entire team if I let it. If that happened, though, all of our projects for the next six weeks would fall out of wack. We’ve got a lot going on. However, it was also obvious to me that we needed both more information and, frankly, more hands. The problem here is, though, that I’m not the leader. I’m a leader, certainly. I’m even, in theory, the technical leader responsible for the line of service overall. But I’m young in the company, unknown to most of the players, and note the previous comment about Win/Win trading strategies.

In a management textbook or one of those fun guides to how to be a better manager I would have known exactly what to do. In reality, though, I did what everyone else does: made a snap decision, somewhat half-baked, and adjusted as I went along. The eventual results remain a complete mystery to me. How much of my minor amounts of influence did I expend? How many enemies did I make? We’ll see…

Anyway, I sacrificed planning and trading for listening, suggesting, and watching as events unfolded. I provided resources, such as I had. I argued against descending into activity for the sake of activity, though it strikes me that it was only at the end that I clearly laid out that argument. A team of people, maybe the right people but sometimes not, swirled in and out of the picture. The actual leader stepped out in front to coordinate activity and try to find a real answer. Whether his approach worked or not I cannot say; we did eventually get to the root cause and resolve it though.

Resolving the root cause didn’t clear everything up, though. In fact, we didn’t trace though the system as well as we should have. When we brought it back up, there were errors in the data caused by the original problems that brought the system down. Now, we don’t have a lot of people in house who know a lot about the system. However, I do know enough to question the vendors about tracing things end to end. Why didn’t I, then?

By that time, I had decided to fade back and just provide support. One of the hardest lessons I’ve learned over the years is that it’s more dangerous to split leadership than it is to follow a leader into a place you are not entirely sure is right. I might have been able to use charisma and force of will to pull part of the team in another direction. It would have split our efforts, though, and almost certainly would permanently alienate an ally that I both need and respect.

Should I have played the councilor instead? Should I have fought, tooth and nail, for more time to pull together information? Should I have brought in additional resources and be damned with the decisions being made by the various important players? Maybe. Maybe not. I’m sure I’ll wake up some night in the near future with the perfect gameplan.

As it is, at the end of the third day my team had, in professional form, gone on their merry way without me. They knew what needed doing and did it, professionally and well. We restored the system to a functional state though we have some process pieces to work out. I even managed to give way enough to get the things that I really wanted, even if I don’t have the resources to deliver on them just yet.

I’ll work on that second bit next week.