I’ve been meaning to spill this tea for a looooong minute, let me just tell you this.
Do you hate it when your boss tosses aside the work you slaved for hours over, replaces it with something completely different and says yah this is what I wanted, but it’s completely different from his initial directions?
Do you hate it when your boss thinks your work is something unimportant and can be pushed to later when I’m not so busy, because of course your effort counts for nothing?
Do you hate it when you try to tell your boss, maybe it would be better if we do it this way, and he just shrugs and says, sorry, this is out of my hands; this is what the bosses want. We just have to do it this way (which involves shitty work for you lol).
Of course you fucking hate it. I hated it.
Then, in my own small role, I realised that I was kinda like that as a leader.
In my previous job, I was in charge of three photographers. I gave them jobs to do, assigned them events to cover, and planned their schedule. I found these responsibilities pretty fucking tedious – and this attitude probably showed.
A few months before I left, a friend came to me and said very seriously, There’s something I think you need to know. They say that you’re just like X.
My immediate reaction was Cannot be lah, X is so shitty. There’s no way I’m just like him. A natural response, because who likes to know that they’re like someone they hate? I kinda knew I was a shitty leader – I just didn’t know how shitty.
Turned out that I didn’t give clear directions – just like X.
And in hindsight, when I compare how I led my team to how I was led, I see quite a number of similarities yay 🙃 I didn’t have a good leader to learn from, but at the very least I learned what makes a crap leader and how I could (hopefully!) avoid being that in the future.
i. Thinking their time is less important than mine
Sometimes, there really was no choice. Someone urgently needs this event to be covered at the last minute, and you have to send the photographer down at some ulu location over the weekend. But if you keep taking that bobian line, you’ll become someone who thinks oh, just send a boy down lorh. They’re so free, they can do this [insert shitty thing].
I don’t think that I’m as bad as someone whose name I’d rather not have on my blog, but to an extent, I have thought it. I know that some of it is simply part of their job, but that shouldn’t discount the effort put in (assuming of course, there was effort put in). It’s important to show that acknowledgement. It’s only decent.
ii. Can’t be bothered to get to know them better
Fresh out of uni, I figured that working with this team would be similar to group work with strangers in school – lol hell no. Very quickly, I adopted this attitude of well, they didn’t choose to be here and they don’t care. I don’t have time for this.
As far as I was concerned, so long as I gave them their off days and approved their leave, that was being a good enough boss. I wasn’t interested in chit-chat, and anyway, if you know me, I’m pretty fucking awkward 😬 I’m terrible at making conversation.
(If you’re wondering how terrible, this conversation happened on a Grab ride recently:
Driver: You look very young. Don’t need to ask me I how old lah, confirm older than you.
Me: Hahaha yah, I think you’re older too.
Driver (whipping around to stare at me): Wah lao, you confirm not in sales one! Where got people say that one?
Me: *confused because that’s ~literally~ what you said???*
Yeah, I would safely conclude that I’m still terrible at small talk.)
The aforementioned friend tried telling me before that it was unfair for me to assume that the boys in the team just didn’t care, but I only realised what she meant when I stumbled upon an Instagram post one of them did after he left. He had described his experience in glowing terms, making it sound inspirational almost. I was frankly amazed that he thought this way – and ashamed, because I hadn’t thought it possible of these boys.
I used to think, I’m just here to get my job done. I don’t have time for this farewell celebration or that cohesion activity. But you know what was one of the main grouses I had? That my boss didn’t take time to get to know us and what our strengths are.
I see now that getting to know your team is critical to your work. When you understand your people, you know what their qualities are, you can assign them work that benefits from their strengths, and hey presto! You get hella better results.
I also realise now that it’s the relationships you build that you remember when you leave. It’s about the fun times you enjoyed together and the tough times you slogged through together. It’s definitely not about the papers I turned in efficiently.
iii. Making excuses for poor leadership skills
I’m not a natural leader. I have neither the traits that make me an inspiring figure, nor the desire to step up to the plate. And I’ve always hedged on that as a reason for my lack of engagement with my team. Oh welp, we all know I’m terrible at this ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
I definitely didn’t know what to do when it came to the very occasional disciplinary issues. Ugh, fucking waste my time, I thought. I have better things to do.
This is what I think now: being a leader was every bit as part of my job as churning out articles was. So, all the little things that came with being a leader? I should have taken them on with as much seriousness as writing. Yeah, I probably wouldn’t enjoy it as much, but … I could have tried harder, is what I’m saying.
It’s easy for me to face my flaws because I’m no longer in that position. It’s always easier to look at yourself from a distance and think, okay, I was like that then, but that’s totally not me now. I’m better now! But that will be making excuses because I don’t actually have to make those changes in my behaviour right now – who’s to say I can really change my shitty attitude?
I hope I can.
Because I think about the people I hated, and I remember how angry and miserable I was, and I would hate the idea that I could be a leader so utterly disappointing to my subordinates.
Of course, this is me projecting my experience on to my former team, who could very well have been perfectly okay with the way I led. This desire to change is entirely for me. It would be extremely hypocritical of me to hate the people with the same deplorable leadership style as mine.
Is this me thinking too much? I know that I’m just a little cog in a vast machine at the end of the day, but I want to be a more self-aware little cog. The last thing I want to be is a puffed-up, self-deluded cog, because then you’ll just be a cock 🙂