When leadership karma comes back around

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He was the first employee I’d ever supervised, and we were having a disagreement.

Also, he was right.

Tate was railing against the fact that the CEO of the company wanted to spend truckloads of company dollars on an inaugural event – a grand sports spectacular that was sure to draw record crowds, infuse money into the local economy and give us immeasurable amounts of exposure and good press.

As our CEO was set to leave the company shortly afterward, this event was to be his swan song, his legacy that would lift the organization to new heights, now and for years to come.

The problem was that the project made no sense whatsoever.

Tate and I – his name has been changed to protect the innocent – were tasked with developing the branding and all the creative collateral. But at that moment, he was complaining incessantly and pushing me to do something about the situation.

“Why are we doing all this creative work for such a wasteful project?” he vented, sounding very much like the young, idealistic creative I saw him to be. “Why aren’t we pitching alternative event ideas? Why are we just going along with this?”

Exasperated, I finally cut him off with, “Because he gets what he wants, that’s why!”

Not my best leadership moment.

Several years later, when I was helping a struggling organization re-brand following an internal scandal, leadership karma came back around. For some inexplicable reason, though I suspect bodies were buried somewhere, one member of their leadership team was allowed to implement projects on a whim, at any time. He launched (and named and marketed) new products, invented new departments, spent thousands on irrelevant-yet-trendy infrastructures, and even founded charitable foundations, whenever the mood struck him.

When I questioned it, I was told, “He gets what he wants!”

*karmic slap in the face*

Instantly I was back in that fledgling creative department with Tate, ranting about how we should be speaking truth to power instead of blindly cranking out work we didn’t believe in.

It’s a rant that’s voiced during lunch breaks everywhere, in every industry: one executive, who may or may not have any experience or relevant knowledge, is allowed to push projects through by divine right, unchecked and unquestioned. And the response, “It’s never going to change, so just make peace with it,” usually ends the discussion.

Sadly, I think that might be true.

For a myriad of reasons there are simply those leaders who run like bulls through an organization, and when faced with them throughout my career, I’ve never been successful in totally redirecting their efforts and never financially able to tell them to go terrorize someone else’s company and leave ours alone.

But I think the leadership karma here is this: As my career continues, the generation gap between me and my reports will only get wider. Will they feel empowered to speak truth to me? Will I communicate our mission and strategy clearly enough that they’ll have knowledge to do so, and alternatives to offer? Will I create a culture of engagement where alternative ideas are welcomed?

Most importantly, will I drop my ego and listen? Or will I charge like a bull, forcing projects that feed my ego while ignoring anyone else’s wisdom, especially those “young, idealistic creatives?”

And dear, talented Tate, I'm sorry.

Act of Fearlessness: Cut through the bullsh*t. Drop your ego and listen.