Funny You Should Say That: The Business of Leadership

You, too, can be a leader. 

By John Cadley

They say leaders are born, not made, but I have here before me a catalog that confidently asserts otherwise. It comes from a marketing leadership organization and offers upwards of 50 different seminars on achieving personal and professional success that, if taken together, could very well make me Ruler of the Known Universe. I can, for instance, learn to proactively partner with my boss, manage chaos, communicate cross-functionally, find my leadership voice, manage my emotions in the workplace, become a more assertive manager, confront “real life” challenges effectively and acquire many more of the skills that real leaders apparently possess.

I could probably use that seminar on Managing Emotions. When people criticize my work, I water-balloon bomb them in the hallway, and it always comes up in my performance review under “areas for improvement.” The course description says it will help me understand the connections between my emotions and all the stressors in the workplace. In my case that would include, well, the workplace – the work, the place and most of the people in it – so I’d be interested in how they think I should deal with that, outside of WFH (Working From Home), which everyone knows is a euphemism for PDO (Paid Day Off). They also promise to help me maintain my composure under all circumstances, which could come in handy in case I get so stressed they have to take me from the building in a restraining device. One hates to make a scene, you know.

Then there’s this business of finding my “leadership” voice. I would like that, not just for the workplace but for my two cats – who never listen to a word I say. Evidently it involves studying the master communicators like Winston Churchill, whose speeches are largely credited with saving England during World War II with their power to rally the nation against seemingly impossible odds. I’ve heard recordings and they are indeed soul-stirring: We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight on the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.

Great words, indeed, especially when delivered in Churchill’s deep, resonant tones larded with authority and self-assurance. I, on the other hand, have a high, squeaky voice, and I’m just wondering how those same words would have gone over if the British people thought they were listening to Alvin the Chipmunk. So I’m hoping the teacher has some techniques for lowering my voice to a more commanding level. I’m also hoping it doesn’t involve a medical procedure.

Here’s a seminar on Dynamic Listening. I’m not a good listener. I pretend to listen by going into a trance where my eyes fix on the speaker, my head nods approvingly, and my brain goes into computer sleep mode, where I look interested while conserving the energy it would take to actually be interested.

And then there’s Managing Chaos. It’s been my experience that if you’ve reached the point of chaos it’s because there isn’t any management. If I were running the course I would rename it: Managing the Enormous Mess You’ve Created by Failing to Manage. The class includes workshops involving “real-life” case studies. That could be fun. Maybe we’ll all get to role play as Bernie Madoff’s employees the day clients started asking for their money back. The catalog says I’ll get “five new answers” for managing these kinds of “escalating pressures.” Maybe they’re the same five I use right now:

Close the door.

  • Disconnect the phone.
  • Delete all e-mails.
  • Hide under the desk.
  • Double up on my medications.

One course I won’t take is Cross-functional Communication. People who work in other departments don’t want you to understand what they do. It’s called job security. Then, too, people take pride in knowing what you don’t. When the media director tells me that the final budget of the GRP level will be determined by the cost per point – the blank, uncomprehending stare on my face gives her a feeling of self-worth as few things can. Far be it from me to deny her such joy.

So if I take these courses I’ll be able to (A) maintain my composure (B) in the midst of total chaos while (C) listening intently to my colleagues and (D) barking commands with the voice of authority. I saw the movie Titanic and that’s just what the captain did as the ship was going down. Maybe I don’t want to be a leader after all. 

John Cadley is an advertising copy-writer in Syracuse, New York. Reach him at