Monday, May 4, 2009

The Death of a Thousand Cuts

I used to like democracy. Sounded cool, supported by lots of important people, blah blah blah. But I'm over it.

When I ran a theatre company, I tried to lead it democratically. Likewise when I managed a curriculum team. But there's a difference between "leading democratically" and "allowing chaos." A big difference. I am currently working in an "allowing chaos" place.

Actually, it's the worst of both worlds. On odd-numbered days, I am given tasks and told what to do, and usually am treated like a fool for not having anticipated the task before it was asked of me. As I said to someone recently, no one asks me to do anything; they ask me why I haven't already done it.

And then, on even-numbered days, I participate in endless, endless conference calls, where we hash and rehash ideas, watching the minutes and then hours dribble away while nobody takes the lead or says what they want, and opinions go around and around in circles, with bosses saying, "What do you think?" or "Is that fair?"

In my graduate courses, we read the same constructivist nonsense--about how leadership is a dirty word, and everything must be decided by everybody. But that's crap--nobody wants to be on the committee of the whole, with the entire universe as its agenda, forever. People want to be able to do their jobs. People want their colleagues and bosses to do their jobs.

I'm not saying we want to be automatons. Obviously, we don't. We want to own our work. We want the freedom and autonomy to make decisions. But OUR decisions--that affect OUR work--not every decision in the world.

A leader doesn't have to make every decision for the group--nor should she. But someone has to sketch out the larger vision of the organization, so that everyone else can feel like their working at a common purpose, and swimming in the same pond.

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