My team and I got to explore the joys
of chaos in action this week. On one side we had a brand new system
slowly spinning apart. On another, a project suffering from one of
those cursed implementations we all like to talk about over beer as
the worst installation I ever worked on. Meanwhile several
other problems dogged our heels until we finally got rid of them.
All in all, a normal week at the office.
Of interest to me, though, was my own
reaction to the whole mess. My thoughts always turn inward in times
of stress; I learned a long time ago that I cannot control others
actions or reactions, only my own. It’s wisdom of a sort, though not
always terribly useful.
The question of where to put my focus
dominated the first part of every day. What, exactly, did I need to
focus on to produce the right tactical outcome? Which of the many
things spinning out of control did I want to get hold of first, which
could wait, and which would just have to go on without me? How would
I choose and what measures would I use to determine when I needed to
This was, I’ll admit, a fairly
cold-blooded way to go about it. Getting flustered, though it would
convince some of my erstwhile allies of my sincerity, wouldn’t
accomplish everything that needed done. Additionally I have a highly
trained resistance to wasteful motion. I’d rather wait, watch, and
then take the shortest path to where I want to go rather than be seen
to move, especially to little purpose.
Anyway, I decided to sacrifice some
tactical outcomes for purely strategic goals. A less airy way of
saying that reads as I divided the work among my team members, worked
with them to keep them focused and get them resources or answers, and
kept my fumbling hands to myself. That last bit took a good deal of
self control; it was tempting to jump in and try to help even when I
had no clue what needed to be done.
This approach meant some things didn’t
happen on time. Other times, I wasn’t involved with on-the-spot
decisions that I wanted to have a say in. Heck, a few things fell
though the cracks and I may have accidentally thrown someone I
respect under a bus. If I did, I’ll have to go beg forgiveness next
You know what though? The things that
got done late were done very well; the issues with their completion
were logistical rather than technical. That means they land squarely
back on my plate. The team member who made the decision made it
EXACTLY as I would have, for the same reasons, and using the same
principles of engagement. In other words, I succeeded as a leader
even if my personal desire for control nibbled away at my heart.
And those things falling though the
cracks? They are, uniformly, things I’ve kept on my own plate for
too long. Things where I wanted to prove my use and worth by helping
the process along. Things I assessed and planned but failed to pass
on to my team for review and implementation. In other words, things
I tried to individually contribute rather than create though a team.
I know better. In many cases the key
to successful leadership lies in letting go. Grandstands and heroic
actions mean less than creating a balanced environment for the team
to thrive. But, darn it, I’m like almost everyone else. I entered
leadership by proving how much I could accomplish on my own. Letting
go of things, even when its time, hurts more than I want to admit
So, here I sit, with a plate full of
slightly spoiled process pieces. Do I let them go? Clean them up?
Just kind of spruce them up a bit and serve them for lunch next week?
I’ll have to figure out what to do
later. For now, I’m tired but reasonably satisfied. The team did
well. Individually they acted with integrity and wisdom. As a group
we accomplished, if not everything we wanted to accomplish, then what
was needful given the tactical circumstances we encountered.
My own reaction to all of these
circumstances continues to amuse me. You see, I’m still. At the end
of every day I feel tired but quiet.
This week the chaos didn’t touch me;
we’ll have to see how that goes next week.