Leadership Doesn't End

Our post today is a guest post from technologist, public speaker, and leader, Jer Lance. You can read more of Jer's thoughts on these topics as well as Agile, kayaking, teaching, and life over on his blog, JerLance.com.

It's 10am and I am sitting in my home office corresponding with a broad network of contacts and contacts of contacts, and it occurs to me that for a hopeless introvert, the last 24 hours amounts to more "being on" than I typically muster in even a busy week.

And I haven't even started trying to find a job for me yet!

Let me start from the beginning. Yesterday, a large group of us were assembled in a conference room and given a speech that is probably familiar to an astonishing percentage of the sort of folks that would be reading this post. So many unimportant words used to get to the important one, we were being reduced. We were all unemployed starting now.

In my career, I've been on both sides of that conference room table numerous times, and both are really difficult positions.1 It was sitting on the other side of the table over a decade ago, though, that I made a simple decision as to what sort of a leader I was going to be. Business needs might dictate that I have to let you go, but it doesn't dictate that my leadership terminates there. Leadership doesn't just end like that.

Leadership lives on in so many ways; sometimes it's as simple as the regular requests I get for letters of recommendation or to be a reference for someone. Sometimes, it takes the form of a former teammate reaching out for mentorship, coaching, or another point of view in difficult times. I can't even count the number of email exchanges or lengthy phone calls that have taken place when a member of my team from years past simply wants to hear my thoughts about a job they are considering taking. People follow a leader because they respect them; and that doesn't die immediately upon the end of the workplace relationship.

So it is that for more than 10 years now, when I've had to lay off good folks for business reasons, I've taken it upon myself to reach out to my network and shake loose at least a couple of options for my former teammate to pursue. Who knows the workplace 'them' better than I, and who is in a better position to help them balance strengths, weaknesses, and goals in order to ensure that they have actionable leads that will give them a chance to shine as they progress and grow. What he or she does with that lead is up to them, but I have done what I can to take care of my team one last time in the best way that I have at my disposal.

So it was almost autopilot that drove me to reach out to my network as I was leaving the building and start finding positions for my folks. The last 24 hours have been profoundly satisfying as I chip away at finding possibilities for everyone to pursue, and this is coming at a time when it would be very easy to find life to be quite unsatisfying.

With me also being out of work, one of the first questions I'm asked is fairly obvious. I have heard so many forms of "shouldn't you worry about yourself first?" at this point that it barely even registers. I have 20+ years in this industry. I have 20+ years of contacts, experience, public speaking engagements, and general presence in an industry that rewards all of those things tremendously. We are not even competing for the same jobs. I will almost assuredly be okay.

But let's assume for a moment that none of that is true. Let us assume that my teammates and I will be competing for similar jobs in a field with less opportunity. I've said it before, and I will say it again until the message sticks: the leader that you are isn't the leader you choose to be when it's easy; the leader that you are is the leader you choose to be when it's risky, scary, and tough.

I will not dishonor the work that I've put in to become the sort of leader I wish to have by choosing to be a different sort of leader as soon as it actually matters. I think a better question is, what will you do when it matters? Will you be a leader, or merely a manager?

1Both are difficult positions, but I'm not going to lie to you, giving the layoff message is far preferable to hearing it--no matter how hard it is to give that message, you can still go home and cry it out into your paycheck, which is a thing that still exists for you.


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