birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Lead. Follow. Repeat.

We bristle at authority that is unjustly assumed or unreasonably wielded. We respect authority that is restrained and judicious. And for the most part, we actually like rules. At least so long as they're clear, and equally applied.

For so many of us, the most meaningfully direct contact we have with authority on a day-to-day, moment-to-moment basis is in our workplace. With our boss. Or bosses, as the corporate hierarchies grow.

So how come we don't have better bosses? Why don't workplaces expend more effort developing talent and nurturing good leadership?

Instead, what we too often get is the victor in a war of attrition. Someone who has survived in a place long enough to claim the desk or office with the view, get a semi-regular promotion, and acquire more direct reports or oversight. It's not so much a meritocracy as a bossocracy.

And when new bosses are hired, it's typically based on their credentials pleasing their prior bosses and how that might fit their ability to please their new bosses. That's a lot of bossy incentivizing.

Can we stop calling them bosses? "Manager" covers the base adequately. "Team leader" reflects more of the ideal. "Boss" just underscores that top-down thing that makes us chafe with anti-authority sentiment.

In my own work life, I'm pretty sure I've had more mediocre leadership than great, but I've been lucky enough to only have one or two outright bad managers. And, confusingly for all involved, those leaders that I've found wonderful in some way others have condemned as lame by different standards.

You can't herald great leadership if the very definition isn't clear, if it isn't a 360 approach (and not in the manner of those perfunctory "360" annual reviews in which a generic form solicits generic feedback from fearful underlings) to group effort and goal direction.

I'm also fairly certain that great leaders evolve, and are not born. There aren't innate talents that galvanize other people. Those skills are learned, by example, by trial-and-error, but seeing and reacting to external models, both good and bad.

The truly great managers I've known were calm, great listeners, and highly self-aware in recognizing what they DIDN'T know about a task or project, and they weren't afraid to reveal shortcomings and to reach out for aid. They had a good sense of humor about work, and about themselves generally.

I've been honored enough to be trusted with leadership roles myself, so I know how hard it is to effectively draw on individual talents in service of a group or company effort, especially when the goal or direction above isn't always clear. And the talented managers I've known weren't drawn from any single mold. The best sometimes even wondered how they'd gotten there.

But they all had a talent for truly listening and for adapting to particular situations and individual needs.

And as I've been able to draw on your examples, I thank you PB, TG, KW, JH, and CI.

I'm still learning a lot from all of you.


Girl Boss