Leadership can be lonely

Written by Joel Obstfeld Jan. 13, 2022

Why is it that we only tend to talk about leadership issues if we’re in specific training courses?
Leadership can be lonely

About the author

Joel Obstfeld

Joel Obstfeld is one of our professional mentors on MentorCruise and works as Distinguished Engineer at Cisco.

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To be clear, we’re talking about leadership, not management.

A manager manages a team of people who are there do perform a job. The manager is there in order to organise the team, help the team achieve their goals and report status to others.

A good leader inspires their people and will take them to places that they didn’t think they could go. A leader doesn’t necessarily need a job title in order to be a leader.

Leadership is a privilege.

Leadership is a responsibility.

Giving your time to people is a huge investment in them.

This is what leader’s do.

We want to help people around us learn and grow.

A thriving organisation is a ‘learning organisation’, one that is able to adapt, take on and overcome the next set of challenges, and we, as leaders, also need to learn. And we can learn a lot from each other.

If you look across the organisation in which you work, or places where you have worked in the past, you’ll see a great deal of experience in leadership. Not everyone is a great leader, of course, yet there is a pool of experience there that we can tap, even if the conclusion you draw is, ‘I wouldn’t do it that way’. Yet we find it awkward to talk about this with others in forums other than the occasional leadership training course.

If you were to ask for advice or opinions from peers and seniors, is it an admission of inexperience and vulnerability? Is there anything wrong with that? We’re happy to ask for advice and help on technical topics but on leadership we remain silent. And if we don’t talk about it, how can we learn?

We can of course, turn to books and videos for advice. It is unlikely, however, that the author or speaker has worked in your organisation. There may be elements that are common but there nothing that can replace the shared experience of having worked in the same company and having that understanding of the unique dynamic that’s present.

I started an experiment that I called ‘The Leadership Break room’. A monthly thirty minute conference call providing an opportunity for leaders to get together and share issues that they are facing at the moment in order to get advice from others.

It operates with just a few simple rules.

  • What is said in the forum is confidential and stays in the forum
  • If you offer someone advice, only offer advice if it’s based on experience, not conjecture
  • If you are talking about something happening in your team, best to anonymise the individuals

The forum is about sharing and learning from each other.

The discussion covered ‘coaching’ versus ‘giving advice’, how we can find opportunities outside of the regular work for those that we lead to ‘grow’, the challenges of team dynamics, the impact of cultural background and cultural norms (especially important in international companies) and keeping teams motivated when working on projects over a long period of time.

The sessions are like a bath, once you get in, you’ll find that the water is warm.

Call to action

Could sitting down with a cup of coffee and talking about the ‘hard stuff’ of leadership be worthwhile for you (and your colleagues)?

Could I help you with this?

Don’t wait for someone else — set up your own Leadership break room!

Click here to get a copy of the slides that I used for the first session.

If you DO, I’d love to hear how your sessions progress.


About the author

Joel Obstfeld

Joel Obstfeld is one of our professional mentors on MentorCruise and works as Distinguished Engineer at Cisco.

Visit Profile

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