How I learnt to not be the kind of boss I detest

circa 2015 (Pulse Ghana office)

For as long as I can remember, I have always believed that leaders (especially those in management) are the kind of people who never do the actual work but spend a lot of time telling other people what to do.

I was ok with that, but I never wanted to be in management, mainly because I loved to be hands-on, devoid of the bureaucracy of being “head”. Having experienced a lot of traditional company structures where, all the “Heads” did, was instruct others and take big cheques at the end of the month, I swore to never become like that.

I could have promised myself that I’d become the kind of leader who would engage in active hands-on work, but I held another conviction that power corrupts (don’t blame me, I have seen it happen several times over).

My current title is “Editorial Operations Lead,” perhaps this happened out of need, perhaps organically out of progression, or perhaps out of empathy when my constant desire to bring the team together came to light.

Ameyaw Debrah — a good lead to learn from (c. 2015)

But it has not been an instant promotion, albeit becoming an editor after barely two months as a journalist would seem like an instant upgrade; promotion-on-entry; spotting “management material” to many people.

As much as that might be flattering for me to think, I have to believe that’s not the case, because when this happened in December 2014, I found myself staring, wide-eyed, at a brand new role.

Looking back, I did not want this role then — but by virtue of my “taking charge and being responsible for the team,” I was ready for it.

But why was I ready for it despite my apparent detest of “management” or “leadership”?

As I resonated on the new role back in ’14, I wondered if I was about to become a leader of others — the “boss” telling people to work instead of working myself? Was I letting my desire for career progression cloud my vision to the point where I’d accept becoming the very thing I once hated?

Then came in the perspective, the reason I always choose to be a practitioner rather than manager in my work and play is that it’s never my job to tell someone else to do their job < and that reason is why I could lead the team then.

I knew there must be more to it. I’ve worked alongside leaders that made me excited to get to work, and I’ve worked for leaders who kept me awake at night in fear. If a leadership role could have such an effect on me, surely there must be something to it — but what’s the difference?

While accepting the new role, I asked the then-COO and CEO then if I would have to stop doing what I do now to fully settle into the new role. The CEO must’ve heard the trepidation in my voice, because his response both put my fears to rest and helped me understand a key tenet of leadership. He made it clear that my job was still to work, by making sure that the right things are in place to make the team work. I was supposed to lead the team to get to my point of commitment and help them grow that sense of responsibility towards the platform we were building then. This flipped a switch in my head that illuminated the difference between good and bad leaders.

And I did exactly that — where I would ask the team to publish a certain number of articles daily, I would try to publish more than that myself, whiles still playing the role of online editor by keeping their articles in line with guidelines — both publishing and SEO. And together, we bonded as a team — no difference within the team players and the team lead, because in effect, we were all players.

Now I see things as they really are: leading doesn’t mean you’re better (or that you get to sit arms-folded telling others what to do). It’s just a different way you can contribute as a member of the team.

in summary (via ToolShero)

I won’t claim to be an accomplished leader — heck, I’m almost four years at Ringier and still learning from masters — but I will claim in honesty that I have learnt how true leadership works.

PS: Somewhere in 2015 or so, the CEO who gave me the promotion based on my commitment to work, told me I would make a bad manager — and it is still the best thing I have head from him since 2014.

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