Date: Feb 17, 2011


Leadership. Is it on your resume? Have you peppered your college applications with a healthy dose of the word (along with half a dozen others)? Have you developed sufficient skills thereof? You are a leader, right? Everyone should be. Everyone! Do you even know, or have you taken the time to think about, what the word even means?

Leadership. Citizenship. Kindness. Innovation. Dynamic. These are but a few words in promiscuous use today, ocurring with a chillingly high frequency, as a sort of verbal currency, for the ostensible purpose of embodying those human qualities that can’t be so easily identified. Presumably, with the right combination of these linguistic ingredients, we can describe our ideal partner, mentor, or contractor, that powerhouse with oodles of je ne sais quoi, a guy you can brainstorm with, then invite over for a beer afterwards. Problem is, these words all have their own meanings: meanings which are lost when they are used wantonly in a case where they’re implicitly understood to mean “an all around awesome dude.” Entire books could be written about the abuse of virtue words—but I’m here to rant about Leadership.

Leadership. Let’s break it down. Lead-er-ship. Noun. The act, state, or quality of being a leader. Lead-er. Noun. One who leads. Lead. Verb. To lead or conduct. Actually, this word has quite a few different meanings, which is perhaps one reason for the confusion. For instance, a person whose last name begins with two ‘A’s would almost certainly have lead his graduation procession. Does that make such a person a leader? Probably, sure, but imagine the look Bob Aarons would get upon calling attention to that during an interview where he’s asked to describe his leadership experience.

Allow me to put forth my own definition of leadership: being able, but also willing, to make decisions that nobody else will make. To put it in more flowery terms, to be unafraid to act, but to make no unnecessary action; to have cautious foresight; to bring others together, take stock of a variety of skills, and bring that variety to bear against a given problem. A leader understands the people he’s leading.

Why Are You Looking at Me?

I’m none of that. I’m one guy with no delusions of grandeur who just wants to code. Don’t get me wrong, I want to code well; indeed, I passionately wish to excel at it. It would please me to no end to become the greatest coder of all time! …Okay, I guess I do have delusions of grandeur, and they involve me becoming a damn good programmer. I want to do one thing and do it well. But that’s all; I don’t need to augment my role as a programmer with that of a president, chairman, captain or dictator.

Why, then, have I devoted so much of my precious time to the well-doing of anything other than my one thing? Am I just somebody’s sucker?

Well, maybe; but I like to take the more optimistic view. I’m nobody’s sucker but my own, and I consistently sucker myself into getting involved with things I care about. There’s not a single leadership role I’ve taken on for which I thought there was a better man for the job, or where I thought there was any alternative to taking on the responsibility. Taking the reins has always been a last resort, but when the need arises, I’m a doer, not a whiner…even if the doing is half-assed. It beats none at all.

So What’s the Problem?

Like I said, I’m no leader by any stretch of the imagination, and I don’t want to be. Let someone else take the spotlight. I’ll be perfectly content to hack away behind the scenes, knowing my job is no less important just because it’s not glamorous. Can we do that?

The answer is, oftentimes, no. It is rather true that people who do possess decent leadership skills are few and far between. In that light, maybe it’s a good thing that schools and industry place such a value on the skill…but honestly, must we encourage everybody to be a leader? Isn’t the entire value to having a leader in that the rest of us don’t have to and can focus on what we’re good at? I’m convinced that good leaders must have several innate talents, much like musicians and mathematicians, that can only be learned to a limited extent.

Let those people hone their craft and run the world of tomorrow. I’ll be here coding.