The Leader’s Easy Job

January 8th, 2013  | 

Published in Holiday, Organization Health, Strategic Planning

Happy New Year!

Did you take time during the holidays to relax, reflect and recharge?

I hope so. Because here we go again. Another lap around the track.

A leader’s job is never done

And despite the tongue-in-cheek headline, a leader’s job is seldom easy. I have observed, as I’m sure you have, exceptional leaders who can make difficult jobs look effortless.

Women leaders in my life

For years, my wife Janet led the Dallas office of DDB Worldwide, the international advertising agency. Today, she has her own successful consultancy. Then as now, her leadership style has been built on a platform of rock-solid values, collaboration and consensus-building, creative problem-solving, and lots and lots of preparation. Janet and her team at DDB helped make the Dallas office one of the highest-performing units in the world.

She made it look easy, though it seldom was.

Our daughter Jordan is following in her mother’s footsteps, and last month started her term as the president of the student-led advertising agency at the University of Texas. Best wishes, Jordan. You’re fully prepared to take on this leadership role.

Next month on Valentine’s Day is the two-year anniversary of my mother’s death.

As my sister and I went through my mother’s effects, we discovered two sets of files – one set was my mother’s, the other set was my grandmother’s. Both sets of files pertained to their leadership roles in the Parent Teacher Association (PTA).

My mother and grandmother were active in this voluntary association that serves as “a powerful voice for all children, a relevant resource for families, and strong advocate for the education and well-being of every child.” Two generations ago, more parents took an active role in the education of their children, and PTA membership peaked at more than 12 million members. Today, there are about 5.2 million members.

My mother joined the PTA in 1961 when I became a first-grader. Roselyn Bustin was soon elected president by her peers at the local level and later was elected president of the city-wide Austin Congress of the PTA. She ultimately held statewide leadership positions.

Like most great leaders, my mother had a great mentor: her mother-in-law, Grace Stinnett Bustin, my grandmother.

Grace Bustin began her PTA work in 1933 and remained active until her two children graduated from high school.

In one of the files, we found a newspaper article from 1949: “Mrs. Charles N. Bustin, Jr., of Austin, state parliamentarian of the Texas Congress of Parents and Teachers….has been in PTA work for 16 years during which time she has been unit president, district board member and state parliamentarian. Last year she was awarded a scholarship by the Texas PTA Congress to attend the Northwestern University parent teacher workshop sponsored by that university and the National PTA Congress.”

My grandmother encouraged my mother to follow in her footsteps.

Who are you encouraging to follow in yours?

Leadership: Harder Than It Looks

In another file, we found meeting minutes from a prior PTA meeting and an agenda for that month’s meeting. We also found a document that had been typed on my grandmother’s typewriter.

Though I cannot confirm that my grandmother is the author, this document nevertheless articulates the difficult role any leader faces.

“The Leader’s Easy Job”

Her job is something like a football in a big game;
First one side has it and then the other:

If she writes a postal, it is too short,
If she sends a letter it’s too long.

If she issues a pamphlet, she is a spendthrift,
If she attempts to safeguard the interests of the association she is trying to run things;
If she does not, she is allowing things to go to the dogs.

If she attends committee meetings, she is intruding,
If she does not, she is a shirker.

If the attendance is slim – well, nobody likes her anyway.
If she tries to help, she is a pest.

If the program is a success, the program committee is praised,
If not, it’s all the president’s fault.

If dues are called for, she is insulting,
If they are not collected, she is to blame.

If she is in a smiling mood, she is frivolous,
If she is serious, she is a sorehead.

If she seeks advice, she is incompetent,
If she does not, she is bull-headed.

If she mixes with the members, she is too familiar,
If she does not, she is too ritzy.

So, ashes to ashes, dust to dust,
If others won’t do it, the president must.

Yes, “the president must.”

Leadership is not doing what’s easy or popular

It’s doing what’s right and necessary.

When things are going well, it’s easy to be a leader because it’s mostly about managing something – people, projects, deadlines, budgets. But when things go south, it’s all about leading people. And making the tough decisions to set things right.

For better or worse, the organization is a reflection of your values, your passion and your decisions.

Here’s to a prosperous 2013.

About the Author: Greg Bustin advises leaders of some of the world’s most admired companies, and he’s dedicated a career to working with CEOs and the leadership teams of hundreds of companies in a range of industries. He’s facilitated more than 200 strategic planning sessions, and he’s delivered more than 500 keynotes and workshops on five continents. His fifth leadership book—How Leaders Decide: A Timeless Guide to Making Tough Choices—examines 52 of history’s greatest triumphs and tragedies and debuted in April as the #1 new historical reference book on Amazon.

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