I’ve been working in management for about seven months now, and the transition from part time to leadership has been…turbulent, exciting, overwhelming, inspiring, and necessary. It was time for me to move on from teaching, and at first I was unsure if this was the right move (I thought I might journey back to marketing and public relations) but now I’m certain it was. When I was studying in the MBA program, I took two courses centered on leadership and management, and in both, I indicated to my instructors that I wasn’t interested in working in management. I felt it was scary, I didn’t want the headache, and most of what I’d read about management seemed like it involved an intense amount of pressure. Those things aren’t untrue; I’ve experienced pressure, headaches, and nervousness since assuming this role. However, I feel like I’m able to grow more in this position than my past one. I’m constantly challenged to grow and get better, and I like that. One of the ways I’ve grown is through my ability to face what I’d been fearing about management: managing.
It’s not as simple as telling people what to do. That’s simple delegation, and even without management or leadership experience, anyone can pass off work to someone else. Managing requires additional accountability, responsibility, and an element of protection. Good managers don’t throw people under the bus when projects go wrong. Good managers work with their team members’ strengths as well as shortcomings. Good managers recognize their own strengths and shortcomings, too. But great managers are not necessarily always leaders. It’s leadership that pulls the team together in the face of difficulty. Leaders keep their team safe from misguided emotions or responsibility that should not be shouldered by their own team members. Leaders are lions.
I’ve had to grow into a lion.
The truth is that in most aspects, I’m a lot more like a tiger.
Tigers are the largest of the big cats. They don’t hold the distinction as “king” or “queen” of anything, as they mostly travel and live in limited groups, or alone. Lions travel and live in prides, large communities of lions all working toward a common purpose. Both are hunters, and tigers are aggressive fighters, but lions (males anyway) are said to have an advantage in combat due to their mane’s ability to protect their necks. Tigers don’t have manes…but they’re giant, thrashing animals.
I’ve always had some sense of aggression about me. My instinct is to challenge authority’s orders because I’m too strong-willed to just blindly obey what someone I don’t know tells me (hence why I would have failed in the military). I’m also a professional loner, and capable of fighting my own battles, performing my own stunts, licking my own wounds. Naturally, I am a tiger. In the professional environment, I have to be a lion.
Lions also do lion shit, like draw blood, growl, patrol, and protect. Lions are leaders. Doing lion shit has been tough, but also gratifying. It’s hard to learn to navigate “drawing blood” through assertiveness, consistency, and courage. I don’t let myself get railroaded anymore because I can’t – I can’t afford to, as railroading means the entire team falls off track. I have no choice but to protect my team members because their time is valuable for our collective goal, and I can’t afford to have them distracted by other people from outside the department or team. It’s a balancing act…but I’ve fallen into it okay.
Then, there are the bears; I work for two of them. One is like a koala – (I know, I know…they aren’t really bears, but bear with me) calm, pensive, subtle, and very approachable. The other is like a grizzly – constantly working toward a greater good, a hunter, one you can learn a lot from, and markedly more aggressive. Navigating between their two differing dynamics is also a challenge, but I don’t think I could have grown into what I am now without them. I’ve worked a lot of jobs, and for a lot of bosses, but I’ve only had one other boss in the past that I respected as much as these two. We aren’t buddies, but we work well together.
There you have it – my animal kingdom analogy for my professional life.
I’m grateful I’ve had such an environment in which to grow.