When I was young, I’ve fantasized about the Wall Street and its masculine bossy cultures. I’m not sure if I admired it, but it was fun to watch in the movies and I felt the catharsis of running a fast-paced organization full of workers doing homogeneous jobs, with the boss being the absolute best at it. Like those Chinese martial art movies where the teacher is the best martial artist in the country.
It became clear to me this was not always the case. In reality, the junior investment bankers stayed up late, crunched numbers, done researches and wrote reports, while their bosses went out to grab drinks and have fun. When the juniors got promoted, they too became like their bosses, reaping on high salary and bonuses while getting the new blood to serve them well. Deep inside, I’ve always felt this wasn’t really the kind of leader I respected nor wanted to become.
When I worked for a tech company back in my early 20s, our team’s manager was an eccentric guy. He joked a lot, sounded silly from time to time, didn’t seem that intense or focused on work, felt like he was laid back most of the time.
But one night, many weeks after the launch of our product, when everything felt like it was running smoothly, a power user reported a critical bug that was creating massive effect throughout the servers and needed to be fixed immediately. It was already past midnight and the team members were tired, and we all started to panic. We had to notify all of the users immediately, start the investigation process while debugging the issue at the same time. We haven’t even identified the cause of the bug yet, so the damage was spreading.
Then there he was, turning around in his chair, focused, calmly telling people what to do step-by-step and managing the chaos. The joking, silly-sounding boss was gone and he changed into a serious and intense, experienced manager who got everyone organized and working towards solving the problem in magical harmony. He was there, wholly reliable when things went south and he made sure we all cleared the problem until early in the morning. It was a small episode, but made an impression on me.
I’ve always respected leaders who were there for others at the toughest and the darkest hours — The leaders who fight the hard battles, lead by doing, are there to back others when in need, and put in those long, grinding hours to make sure the teams make it to the other side.
And they persevere. They don’t give up. They see things through. They make sure the work gets completed without fail.
And this is insanely hard to do. I have my share of failures from the past, but we as leaders must get back up and keep on persevering.
True leaderships are earned, not given, and this is one sure way to earn that accountability as a leader.