Let’s talk about being a leader.
Last year I launched Nashville Geek Life, a social non-profit dedicated to promoting and improving geek culture in our area. We provide regular articles, advertising services, an event calendar, press releases, video projects, local business guides and other related media. Basically, if it’s geek and in our area, we feature it. We’ve done some incredible things for the community, including hosting social events that have encouraged even the most dedicated hermits to come out. We are basically enablers of geek culture, and I’ve had complete strangers tell us how we have encouraged them to go forth and make things happen. It’s incredible some of the stories of heard, and I could never be prouder of what we do when I hear about them.
… But all squishy feelings aside? Man, LEADERSHIP IS HARD.
I never wanted to be a leader. I wanted to make cool shit happen, and I knew I could enable it. So, I did, and now a year later we’re a team of 15+ people facing thousands of fans, and we’re constantly growing our readership by the day. I volunteered to lead this gig because I knew I could, but I wasn’t expecting some of the side-effects, either good or bad. (For example, last week I was just talking to a PR rep from Marvel. Yeah. Frickin’ Marvel.) Despite all the incredible, amazing, good things that have happened this last year, it’s been a real struggle, and I wanted to share some of the things I’ve learned.
So, here we go. CUE THE GIF POST!
1. You will be under constant scrutiny. Get used to it.
You’re not allowed to make mistakes. In fact, you’re probably not allowed to be human, either. Having a bad day? Too bad, no one cares. People will judge you. People will gossip about you. People will misunderstand your intentions, and too often, people will assume the worst before assuming the best. It’s a harsh truth but it is what it is. Accept it.
2. Not everyone is going to like what you do, and that is okay.
Personally I think we’re the best thing since sliced bread, but not everyone is enthused. Someone once sent me hate mail that they were tired of hearing of us all the time. Uh, sorry all your friends love us, bro? I didn’t respond, but I thought it was hilarious. Thankfully this hate mail met me on a good day and not a bad one, because it might have killed part of my soul otherwise. Haters gonna hate.
3. Some days are awesome and some days just suck.
Leadership is like a rollercoaster. You start at the bottom, work your way up, do awesome things, get to the top, and you’re feeling good about it… Then something bad happens and you’re crawling under your desk, except WAIT YOU CAN’T DO THAT because you’re the leader and you are supposed to fix this, kiss it and make it feel better.
Maybe that’s not the best way to exp… wait, nope, it’s exactly like that.
4. Telling other people when they are making mistakes is the worst, but unfortunately a necessary evil.
When I used to work for local conventions there were a few times leadership “smacked my hand” and I felt really, really annoyed about it. Looking back, though, I know why, and now that I lead a group, I completely understand.
I hate making people feel bad. People volunteer because they are enthusiastic and I don’t want them to feel unwelcome. But if things aren’t done a certain way, things fall apart, and then only a few of us are left to pick up the pieces, and we’re really bitter for it.
So, it’s hard, being the bad guy. But someone has to do it.
5. Eventually you are going to piss someone off.
In the past year, I have made a few enemies. I want to say I don’t care, but that’s a lie. I do care, and probably too much at times. Sometimes you have to make difficult business decisions, and all too often, you will be put in situations where making these decisions means that someone is going to be unhappy, no matter what you do. So choose your battles, and stick by them. You can’t make everyone happy.
6. Leadership is overglorified.
There’s a great TED talk by Derek Sivers called “The First Follower: How to Make a Movement.” In this talk, he talks about how the leader needs the guts to stand out and be ridiculed. However, a leader is not a leader without it’s first follower, and the first follower is actually the one who turns the lone nut into a leader.
Seriously, just watch it. (It’s only 3 minutes long.)
7. Leadership is hard, but it’s worth it.
I work hard. I do a lot. I pull long hours at night, and I answer to a lot of people. It’s hard, it’s tiring, and it drives me nuts, but it’s worth it. I believe in our mission, and I believe in our people. We do good, we make things better, and we have fun. And honestly, that makes up for everything.
So when you’re looking down the long road of leadership, know that it’s hard, but that you’re not alone. And when you find a lone nut doing something great, have the courage to follow, because leadership is nothing without your support.
(And if all else fails, ask for a hug.)