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Chris Shaw tagged SQL Server DBA bloggers and asked, “Who has been a great leader in your career and what made them a great leader?”

I’ve been fortunate to work for a stream of really, really good managers, but “leader” means something else, as Chris explained.  I even had to hit the dictionary because I wasn’t quite sure how to put my finger on it.  Dictionary.com says:

Leader – noun – a person or thing that leads.

That reminds me why I stopped using Dictionary.com and switched to Wikipedia.  Wikipedia’s entry on the topic starts out with:

Leadership is one of the most salient aspects of the organizational context. However, defining leadership has been challenging. The following sections discuss several important aspects of leadership including a description of what leadership is and a description of several popular theories and styles of leadership. This page also dives into topics such as the role of emotions and vision, as well leadership effectiveness and performance….

Wow, from one extreme to the other.  The article drones on for pages.

My Definition of Leadership

I believe leaders get groups of people to do something that requires tremendous dedication and sacrifice in order to accomplish a goal that, while perhaps righteous and admirable, may not be visible to everyone else yet.

Leaders don’t just see the goal – that’s genius, not leadership.

Leaders don’t just get people to do something – that’s management, also a good skill, but different.

A real-world example of leadership would be a high-level military official who, during the heat of battle, figures out what needs to be done in order to win, sees through the fog of war to understand how to do it, and then motivates his staff to accomplish it.  In my mind, I just can’t think of the word “leader” without thinking of the word “battle.”  We battle against the market, against our competitors, against economic forces, against timelines, you name it.  (I probably read too much of the Art of War.)

A Leader in My Career

I hate naming names of people who are currently involved in my career.  If I talk about them negatively, I’m shooting myself in the foot, and if I talk about them positively, nobody’s going to believe me because they’ll think I’m kissing butt.  Therefore, I’m going to reach back over ten years and grab a couple of names from my prior career – the hospitality industry.

Hotels and restaurants are full of battles.  I could write a whole blog about that lifestyle, but I’ll give you just one story to demonstrate what it’s really like.  On Father’s Day, a father checked into one of our hotels with his two kids.  He’d lost custody of them, and he’d picked them up from his ex-wife to spend the holiday with them.  Evidently he decided if he couldn’t have the kids, neither could his ex-wife, so he shot them both and then shot himself.  This was a small town without a big crime scene cleanup company, and the hotel general manager cleaned the room personally so that his maids and maintenance guys would be spared the nightmarish task.

That’s the hospitality industry.  It ain’t all leftover porn under the mattress and leftover drugs in the toilet tank.

When I met Tom Eaton, I was a night auditor and he was the hotel general manager.  I was so impressed with him that shortly after he left the city to manage a hotel a thousand miles away, I packed up and followed him.  While working for Tom, I never questioned why I was doing it or whether I enjoyed it.  Those were probably the shortest two years of my life – time just flew by.  One battle after another was over and done with before I even knew what was going on.

As my career progressed, I had the fortune of working under Wayne West, a regional manager (multiple hotels).  He too ended up switching companies, and again I packed up and traipsed across the country to go to work for his new company.  His leadership completely blew me away – he could walk into any hotel and restaurant in any city, and within a matter of hours, he knew enough about the market to figure out what the hotel needed to do next.  And he was right.  And he got people to do it.

I ended up bailing out of the hotel industry – too many battles, not enough battle pay – but the leadership of those two guys really stuck with me.

Who I’m Tagging Next

  • Kendal Van Dyke – because he was complaining about not ranking in this whole tag thing. The squeaky wheel gets the oil.
  • Grant Fritchey – because I’m not done reviewing his book yet, but it’s AWESOME.
  • Gail Shaw – because I referred to her blog three or four times this week to solve an index problem.
  • Rhonda Tipton – because I miss Houston this week. It’s springtime here, but I still can’t smoke a cigar outside yet.
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  1. Pingback: SQL Quiz Part 4 « Home of the Scary DBA

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