Leadership: A Fan’s Notes

The best leaders do hard work that grows them. They both seek out such work — by identifying problem areas that could use some attention and effort — and engage with such work due to their habit of taking full responsibility when necessary.

Full responsibility is defined as that moment when leaders stop pretending or imagining (or even just hoping) that someone else will handle a project / problem / pothole / possibility. They sit down and do the work. They write the memo. They create a draft or a set of slides. Or they show up in person and have the conversation. Or they make the decision and share it. Or they communicate honestly and clearly and authentically. They stop waiting for the right energy or capacity or skill or superhero; instead, they marshal all of their existing resources, whatever they’ve built and saved and stored, and put them to work. It helps that they also have the belief that this effort will be good enough.

Over time, working on hard things and taking responsibility helps leaders to develop a sense of calm competence derived from an “I’ve seen this before and I know what this is” leadership rolodex. This doesn’t mean they are not surprised from time to time; this doesn’t mean they do not encounter new, unidentified, formless, first-time-in-a-career problems. It’s just that they know how to approach most problems and issues because they’ve seen them before . . . and by extension, they know to slow down and take their time with problems and issues that defy their existing categories. It helps that they also have the belief that new problems, meticulously solved, will ultimately find their way into categories, too.

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