This summer has been one long learning opportunity for the Emerging Leaders and me. With everyone’s schedules shifting over the summer, it’s been challenging getting regular meetings together, so it’s taken an extra toll on me to keep everyone abreast. The ridiculousness of the situation really stands out as I type that last sentence. Why is it my job always to be herding cats?
The obvious answer that it took me months to arrive at is: It isn’t. This year has been a crash course in management, which is very distinct from leadership (last year’s lesson). Just because a process appears plain and simple to me does not mean it will be readily adopted by my young people.
Something as simple as group communication is a cumbersome process. In my twenties email was—and continues for me today—to be the easiest way to communicate, both socially and professionally. To be honest, we are still trying to determine what platform works best for group communication. For a long while the temporary solution was redundancy: I would send out a group email, a group text, and then follow up with individual texts and phone calls.
This eventually became unsustainable on all sorts of levels for me. The upside of me going virtually insane from all this coordination work is that it forced me to take to heart certain management lessons (with many, many thanks to my husband—my acting CTO and executive coach):
1. It does no one any good to keep holding my young people’s hands through big projects.
There is a fine line between being supportive and being, well, codependent. If I want my young people to feel capable and self-sufficient, I have to give them the opportunity to step up. I cannot be micro-managing every little detail myself. Besides which, that wears me out.
2. Item #1 demands a lot of trust on my part.
I have always believed that my young people are smart, motivated, and talented, but I confess it’s taking me a long time to entrust them with real responsibility. Letting go is an exercise in faith.
3. Item #1 furthermore requires that I be prepared for deadlines to be pushed back or, worse comes to worst, for projects to fall through.
This is tough. But maybe it’s not as big of a deal as I imagine if we don’t get a media campaign off the ground.
4. Handing off responsibilities is a great way for them to realize how much work is required behind the scenes.
After successfully calling one meeting themselves, and failing to call another meeting while I was out of town, some of my Emerging Leaders now appreciate how difficult and frustrating it is to gather everyone together.
5. In general, letting them experience the consequences of certain behaviors also serves as a good wake up call.
I used to bring bagels to the meetings, but have since stopped, since I was buying too many for the number that would actually show up. Just today we were kicked out of a conference room halfway through our meeting because they arrived 30-45 minutes late. They understand now that if they don’t manage to get meetings together, this campaign will never get off the ground, and they will lose the opportunity for advocacy work.
6. The best regulations and processes are the ones that they come up with. This instills a sense of ownership and accountability, and also lightens my load considerably.
Last month they drafted a Code of Ethics, came up with a buddy system, and tossed out some alternatives to large, in-person meetings. Today we started coming up with a road map for each piece of the campaign, and tasked one Emerging Leader to the management of each project.
I of course remain by their side as they think through the first few steps to get them started on their individual tasks, and I will make myself available for support as they learn to run projects on their own.
The next few weeks should be very interesting for everyone. Fingers crossed!