I have often asked myself, “What in the world are you doing?” Or, “what did you get done today?” I can’t count the number of times that a person has asked me (quite innocently enough) “hey, so what do you do?” and almost immediately I feel the anxiety creeping up the back of my neck… I gulp a little, start with “well… ummm… it’s kinda’ like I help people be better…” Truth is, sometimes I have no clue what I do!
Tina and I have talked about how much more simple my life would be if I just went over to the Lowe’s distribution center 5 miles down the road or the Shaw carpet mill 7 miles North and just got a real job! Imagine that! Wake up, eat some breakfast, drive to work, punch a clock, do my job, punch a clock, go home, play with the kids, watch a little tv, go to bed, actually get PAID REAL MONEY at the end of the week…. sigh. Life would be great! Right? A very normal, rational kind of existence.
Go ahead and just shoot me now.
I’ve come to accept, no, embrace the reality that as a leader, I “don’t necessarily engage in rational behavior (or better, behavior perceived as rational), [I] don’t necessarily know why [I’m] doing what [I’m] doing…”1 and I am deeply grateful to Manfred Kets DeVries for helping me articulate that last sentence. I am understanding more why my stress level increases when people ask “Jon, what do you do?” Simply stated, I am feeling the pressure to provide a rational answer within a blatantly irrational context.
Think about it… I –
- start the day sending emails to people about stuff that I don’t really have any business emailing about but I do it because somehow I’m aware that they might be stuck on something and in need of a fresh perspective to get them jump started. In general, they are appreciative.
- -Skype or Google hangout with a person or two in entirely different geographies than me and ask them questions… that’s right, I ask questions. I don’t even really tell them anything useful! I don’t demonstrate techniques or show them how do stuff that they don’t already know how to do. I don’t sell them a product or make anything tangible, I ask them questions.
- Recently, sell coffee (OK, NOW we’re starting to swerve into the world of rationality!) but even that really isn’t about selling a product, it’s creating space so I can talk to people about….. well, I’m not really sure (BACK to the irrationality!) what about.
- go away overnight with other people and play corn hole and watch football and drink beer all the while talking about how they develop and deploy new pastors. It seems like they learn from each other but at the end of it, I didn’t really show them how to do anything.
- introduce people to each other so they can feel the benefit of knowing each other and help each other out but they don’t really help me get anything done… After all, what do I do that they could help me get done?!?
My dad built houses for a living. He bought building supplies, assembled them into livable dwellings and sold them to people for money. How do you imagine I would explain to him how I feed my family? Yet at the end of the day I can’t imagine “doing” anything else! Because I am a leader. That’s just who I am, I can’t help it. Turns out, I’m really good at it too.
Without crossing the line into unhealthy pride, I can honestly say that the list of people who would say (and have said) that my presence in their lives has made them better at whatever it is that they do is a fairly substantial one. Very few of them work “for” me (actually, I’m NOBODY’S boss nowadays, hallelujah!) but all of them have worked with me at some juncture and I hope I have served to elevate them and their organization.
Is that what we would call “leadership mystique?” Maybe. But what do I know?
Remember, I can’t even tell you what I do for a living!
- Manfred F R. Kets de Vries, The Leadership Mystique: Leading Behavior in the Human Enterprise, 2nd ed. (Harlow, England: Prentice Hall/Financial Times, 2006) 65.