Lead Me Not

Over the past couple weeks, I’ve been thinking about leadership a lot. I was recently nominated for the University of the West Indies Premier Leadership Award – Female. This is the highest award given by the university to someone from the student body who is believed to have exemplified what it means to be a leader: locally, regionally, and internationally. Before my nomination, I wasn’t particularly reflective about my leadership style but once I received wind of my nomination I, being the harshest critic of myself, started to think of all the ways I’ve failed in leadership. Naturally, my mind also wandered into the realm of the shortcomings of persons who lead me. As such this post is about two don’ts of leadership. I’m sure there are a lot more things that can be added to this list but these two have been recurrent in different spheres of my life so I’m zoning in on them in this post. These are things which a good leader should avoid if they’re going to be impactful and effective.

  1. Don’t throw out the baby with the bath-water: This point is about motivation. A core responsibility of any leader is to keep his/her team motivated. This is usually done through positive or negative reinforcement. The challenge with this though is striking a balance. Firstly, know your team. Different people respond differently to similar situations. If you’re leading a large team of individuals take the time to understand what keeps each member motivated and inspired to give their best. Too many times leaders use a broad brush approach to motivation and fail to acknowledge that a different approach may be needed to adequately help some individuals. This tends to happen when leading a large group of people and that’s where you run the risk of throwing out the baby with the bath water. If you’re having a meeting to openly discuss the shortcomings of your team, a good balance would be to recognize the good of each department/subdivision before delving into their shortcomings. Can you imagine walking out of a meeting where all you’ve heard was what you’ve done wrong? For some people, this can push them to do better but for others, this could make them feel dejected and uninspired to continue working. The same can happen if you only highlight the great work of your team without taking the time to show them those areas they can build upon. Motivation is necessary, make the best of it by understanding your team and striking a balance when motivating them to perform at their best.
  2. All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others: Let’s talk disciplinary action. In most organisations, there are stipulations in place to discipline persons if needed. The worst sin a leader can commit is to have varying standards of discipline for the same error. What do I mean by this? Well, if I assign duties to my team members and there are two members who failed to execute their duties it would be remiss of me to issue a letter to one person, while the other gets a verbal warning. This principle is extended to rewards as well. If a standard is not set for negative and positive sanctions you risk ostracizing members of your team. The person who receives the warning letter may become demotivated and rebellious because of unfair treatment. Additionally, the person who received the verbal warning may be seen as the “teacher’s pet” by other members of the team and face backlash from his/her peers. If you intend to maintain order and cohesion among your team, set a standard for positive and negative sanctions and stick to it.
  3. Do as I say, not as I do: Talking about cardinal sins, the WORST thing a leader can do is hold persons to a standard they themselves do not uphold. I’ve had leaders who stressed the need for me to go above and beyond in service, while they did the bare minimum when it came to the fulfilling of duties or execution of events. Being a leader does not come with a magical veil that protects you from scrutiny. When you lead, you’re more likely to be scrutinized and your actions have a greater effect on the team than anyone else. As such, you should be careful to lead by example. Don’t ask your team to give of their best while you operate at a mediocre standard. Your drive and standards will set the pace for your team. If you give your best, more times than not, your team will give their best also, but if you fail to put your best foot forward no amount of pep talks, threats or emails will help your team reach their full potential. What you’ll get is an uninspired group who do the bare minimum to keep their positions and no more.

Part of my team that led the recently concluded inter-campus debates competition at UWI, Mona. We took the other teams from the region to Dunn’s River Falls before they returned to their respective countries. (The featured image shows all the debaters from the various campuses)

I know you’re probably thinking of other things leaders do that hinder their teams so feel free to share them with me. Also, if you disagree with any of the points I’ve made let me know (I might learn a thing or two).


Beneath The Surface

I’ve always found images depicting a cross section of the skin fascinating. I’m not a science whiz or anyone close to that actually – I’m a communications person – but, from the first time I saw a cross section of the skin I was enthralled. To me, my skin was always just this caramel, acne forming aspect of my body that I took care to moisturize regularly and was careful not be too harsh with because it’s sensitive. My skin is one aspect of me that ties me to my ancestors and the struggles faced by blacks the world over. I’ve learned to love it. Yes, learned to. There was a time when I would have traded it because I was ashamed of it and what it represented, I hated that some of the struggles I faced were based solely on the premise that I was born black. And I didn’t want those battles. So yes, I’ve had to learn to love my black skin and the strength, beauty, passion and power that comes with it.

There’s no struggle now though, where the colour of my skin is concerned. I mean, it irks me that  I’m plagued by acne whenever I’m stressed but the little suckers have grown on me and I’ve accepted them as a part of who I am. Don’t get me wrong, I am treating the marks left behind because I don’t want permanent skin damage as a result of acne but I don’t feel the need to hide nor apologise for the existence of little bumps on my skin. So yes, I’ve learned to love the skin that I’m in. I’ve digressed quite a bit from the point I wanted to make though so let me revert to my initial train of thought.

The cross section of the skin fascinates me because it appropriately highlights how beneath the surface of what we think we know are so many other layers. The skin is so thin and fragile at times it’s baffling that such a thin layer has other layers to it. I find it intriguing how it’s affected by our lifestyle as well; the things we eat and drink, the hygiene products we use, where we live, our sleep patterns, you name it and it probably affects our skin. And of course, it makes me think of me. How many layers of myself are there that I’m yet to discover? Am I truly aware of how my choices and my relationships affect the core of who I am?

I’m an insomniac and an overthinker: of course one lends itself to the other but what that means is I’ve had many nights to think about things and for a long time I spent those nights thinking about my life, assessing who I am and my place in the world. I would replay situations, scenarios and conversations and evaluate my response to them and dissect them so I could gain a clearer understanding of who I am and how I respond to various stimuli. I map my thoughts and actions back to Christianity and Christ most times because that’s the core from which I operate and I adjust my behaviour as I see fit. Suffice to say I know myself very well, my EQ is above average but I still find that I don’t know everything there is to know about me and that bothers me. I want to understand myself completely but I worry that if I take a closer look at the layers beneath the surface I won’t be pleased with what I find. I don’t know that I’ll be as fascinated with the layers to be unearthed as I’m fascinated with a cross section of the skin.

I’ve read many articles that say, as you grow you learn more about yourself. And as cliche as that sounds it’s true. The more I grow, the more I mature, the more I learn and the more I interact with people is the more I see things within me I didn’t realise was there. Whether they were always there or are new emergents I can’t say. What I can say, however, is it’s interesting to see and evaluate the new things that pop up every now and again. There’s always a new piece to add to the puzzle and figuring out where it goes and how well it works with everything already down on the table can be intriguing. We’re all just a bunch of layers and sometimes we don’t realize just how many layers are beneath the surface but I think they’re worth finding out about.

I think we’re all just a bunch of layers and sometimes we don’t realize just how many layers are beneath the surface but I’m sure they’re worth finding out about. People should know what they’re made of, we should understand ourselves as completely as possible. We should take the time to dissect each layer, understand how they work in tandem to others and how outside forces affect them ie. work, school, people.

What may seem like a complex mix beneath our surface may very well be what we need to become all that we’re destined to be. With all of that being said, I’m very much aware that this will be easier said and done but I think I’m ready to devote some time to peeling back some layers and truly understanding what I’m made of.