/#MORails - Boss or Leader

I’ve been really lucky in the past 10 years to experience a wide variety of leadership styles, some really inspiring and some really frustrating bosses. I’ve learned a lot from both and last fall I got my first real chance to implement them.

Running student organizations in undergrad was good practice but until I was hiring my own crew and managing them for two months I didn’t really get to set my own tone for being in charge of a project.

My theory runs on a few key principles.

We have the following priorities:

  • 1 Human Safety
  • 2 Bird Safety
  • 3 Equipment Safety
  • 4 Scientific Rigor of the Data

That makes sense to most people, these four things are extremely important and it’s my job to make sure that everyone is safe and we do our jobs well. It’s what comes after that where everyone’s individual style comes in.

I think that my fifth job is to make sure that my technicians understand why we are doing what we’re doing and that they are at least mostly happy. My goal is not to suck up to my technicians, but to make sure that we are doing things in the most rigorous way scientifically but also in a way that makes sense on the ground and is fun, or at least not frustrating for my techs.

I have been thinking about this A LOT over the past year trying to design and redesign my protocol so that its efficient and we’re not collecting data that we don’t need, and that we spend less time doing the annoying tasks, like driving really far.

Despite all this planning there are still going to be bad days, be it my poor planning, the weather, or other circumstances (we had some stuff stolen last year for instance) it is my job to take the worst job, to work harder, work longer, to do everything I can to make the project work. It’s also my job to draw the line at the end of the day and say ‘we’re done now, stop working, take a break’. I choose to be a leader, not a boss, I choose to lead by example. It’s the quality that I admired most in my best bosses in the past and the part that drove me crazy about the bosses I’ve had that I didn’t care for.

One of my past bosses was a huge mentor to me and he told me ‘you have to remember that you care more about your project then anyone else. They’ll get tired first, lose interest first, stop caring first. So on top of caring about your project, you have to care about them, because the work they do once they stop caring, isn’t going to be work worth doing.’

So I choose to care about my technicians well being and happiness because I need them to care and to do a good job but also because they are learning right along side me, chance are they will be going to grad school someday and I want them to know that you don’t have to treat your people like crap, that science and field work can be rewarding and so that they have another option to choose from when they decide what kind of boss they want to be.

Written on July 31, 2013