The workplace fairytale

The workplace fairytale
A good boss is one who'll let you get on with your job and then live happily ever after.

A good boss is one who'll let you get on with your job and then live happily ever after. 

The peril of being in charge, as evidenced by almost anyone in such a position – parents, those who run power companies, Richie McCaw – is that we expect great things from leaders: responsibility, affordable electricity, or at least a World Cup win are high on the list. Which is why it’s always so disappointing when you start a new job and those in charge turn out to be lamentably human and imperfect. To counter such crushing disappointment, employees are often reduced to stealing staplers and using them on one another.

I am currently still too far down the ladder of importance to have a personal minion but I was once permitted to share an assistant. I only trusted the underling with mundane tasks. This is when I realised that before I can rise up the ranks to be an effective leader, and not a dictator, I also need to learn the fine art of letting go. And possibly also the fine art of not calling others minions.

My role model in this regard is my current boss who prefers the ‘directive control’ style of management. Sounds sexy, yes? Believe me, it’s worth swooning for – in short, he leaves us to do our jobs. We use our initiative, he steps in when required and everyone lives happily ever after. Occasionally we go a week or two without seeing him, but he’s got us so well-trained we only have to use him as a last resort. Some days I like to think he’s imaginary.

As far as role models for workplace leadership go, he’s running laps round previous managers, who took hands-on leadership far too seriously, and in one case, far too literally.

Hands-off managers work on the thrilling notion you can actually do the job you were hired for without constant supervision. I love me a cup of tea and the smell of trust first thing in the morning, compared to the vile stench of distrust that comes from having to still copy superiors into all emails six months after starting a new job.

Although not everyone is born to disco, you can be taught to dance. The same applies to leadership – it can be learned and for many careers, it’s a pretty darn important skill – of course, some people never bother to learn and consequently their staff find them loathsome. Ask yourself, when it’s your turn to be in charge, how will you convince others to follow the leader?

Penelope Whitson tweets @PenelopeWhitson, and has taken action to reverse the brain drain by moving back to NZ.