Who should take leadership?
March 28, 2018 3:55 PM   Subscribe

I always struggle with this. At work, the hierarchy is clear and you just do what your boss says. At school and in other collaborative projects though, I always run into this problem.

Say, Mike is a great guy who has great ideas that are really creative and he wants to move in this bold direction. Allen is also a great guy and his idea is very boring but he has more time to spend on the project.

Since Allen has more time, he's the one ushering the project along and getting people to do things by deadlines. We all know Mike's direction is better, but he is not able to usher everyone along as consistently as Allen.

Sometimes I'm Mike, sometimes I'm Allen. How would you reconcile this situation, or who should be the leader?
posted by vAndrew to Education (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If Mike can't articulate his "bold direction" well enough to break it down into action items for the rest of the team that they understand, then he's not actually leading. He's just being the Idea Guy, which sounds like a fun job but it is not actually a job nor is it any fun for anyone else.

For a small project, you should all be able to spend the first meeting agreeing on a goal, setting priorities, figuring out deadlines and what needs to specifically happen by each of those deadlines. It doesn't matter in the least whose idea is whose - what matters is whether those ideas can be turned into substance in the time and with the resources available. If Mike has some grand vision, he needs to break it down into boring chunks just like Allen does with his less-interesting idea. (He also needs to figure out how to get everyone else on board with it enough that they'll do the necessary work, but that can be kind of a hairball with school projects where no one actually cares and everyone prefers to do the minimum.)

Project management is a skillset - one I wish more people would learn! I found this book to be a really good breakdown of what's involved (regardless of type of project, for all that the title is focused on nonprofits.)
posted by restless_nomad at 4:03 PM on March 28, 2018 [7 favorites]

You could designate Mike as the creative director, the ideas guy who has visions for what needs to accomplish. Then designate Allen as the administrative director, the guy who breaks up Mike's ideas into workable tasks and assigns them to people. Like in a creative company, it would be like the difference between a Director (creative) and a producer (administrative, getting shit done). Neither of them needs to be the TOP leader, they can work together.
posted by winterportage at 4:04 PM on March 28, 2018

Restless_nomad is right. Ideas are easy. Execution is hard.

If you're part of a collaborative project, then hopefully you are setting goals, y'know, collaboratively. Mike can lay out his grand vision and the rest of you can talk it through and make it better, or make it practical, or reject it.

I'm part of a small body that operates on consensus, meaning everyone needs to agree to a motion; anyone can block it. I realize this sounds like it could be awful (and in some versions it is), but if you've got a strong group with a solid basis of respect and goodwill, it works.

A lot of informal organizations (if that's not an oxymoron) operate as do-ocracies, meaning the people actually doing the work get to decide what gets done. It sounds like that's where you are right now. And that's not a bad thing! But on a collaborative project, part of the benefit of collaborating is that everyone applying their brains to a problem will come up with a better solution than any one person. Another benefit is developing the skill of collaborating itself.
posted by adamrice at 4:24 PM on March 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

This is school projects and not work? In my experience, s/he who actually wants to make sure the project Gets Done is the leader. So, Allen. Idea Guy, if there is one in your group, may or may not actually manage to get things done, but is more of a contributor. Getting Things Done would be the priority.

Though whenever I had school projects, they boiled down to one person getting things done and the other three flaking and bailing and doing jack shit, so...I would assume an Idea Guy, if one exists in your group, would be more of a #2 on the workload.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:40 PM on March 28, 2018

for a group as small as 4 people it's actually feasible to achieve consensus, as long as everybody involved is acting in good faith. that's the best way to do things if possible, in my opinion. (more than 5 you're pushing it.)

meaning all 4 people should agree on each decision, or at least be indifferent.
posted by vogon_poet at 6:11 PM on March 28, 2018

At work, the hierarchy is clear and you just do what your boss says.

I feel like questioning this premise sheds some light on the main part of your question. In much the same sense that 'education is a series of progressively smaller lies,' this isn't what work looks like as you rise through the hierarchy in a good work environment. I mean, I don't want to paint too rosy a picture--even in a great place, managers can be a pain, and luck is involved in every promotion. But 'you just do what your boss says' practically defines not working in a great place. Your boss has a number of better options, e.g. taking the POV that they work for the team or that they can help you reach the next phase of your career or that they can take cues from you and get other people lined up to help and so on. Consider how much in their interest it is for you to be self-managing or how much in their interest it is for them to promote both good ideas and friendly future colleagues--or how much in everyone's interest it is for them to not micro-manage. So, I think in many (most?) organizations, a decent boss really doesn't want to tell you what to do. Well, Mike has good ideas, but I suspect he still needs help meeting deadlines, organizing others, generating consensus, proving empirically that his ideas will work, not getting frustrated when his ideas encounter inevitable obstacles, closing out last minute details, and so on. On the other hand, Allen is not only self-managing, he's ushering others along. My experience is that Allen is vastly more likely to get promoted into leadership--perhaps with Mike on his team as an 'individual contributor' so the organization gets the best of both their abilities.
posted by Wobbuffet at 6:14 PM on March 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

as long as there's more than two group members, you decide which ideas are best by taking a vote. you decide on scheduling and process by, again, taking a vote.

the leader is the first person with the presence of mind/raw opportunism to say OK, to sum up the discussion, it sounds like we all favor either Mike's or Allen's idea, so let's take a vote to settle it and move on to the planning stage.

you can do this so helpfully and deferentially nobody realizes you just took control until too late. very aggravating for those who don't care for leaders in collaborative work, but effective.

(the leader can also establish herself by asking questions to the group: "So, what do we think about X? Can we all summarize our thoughts going around the circle so everybody gets some input?" here again it looks like a humble request for clarification but suddenly you're the person everyone reports to and justifies things to. magic. irritating magic.)
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:44 PM on March 28, 2018 [4 favorites]

So, I think in many (most?) organizations, a decent boss really doesn't want to tell you what to do.

I kind of think the idea here was that if it was work with a boss, the "leader" would already be decided by the boss, not by the group consensus.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:03 AM on March 29, 2018

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