Leading people: Just forget about being popular

If you think it's tough at the top, try remembering what it was like at the bottom.

Being given the opportunity to lead other people is an enormous privilege and responsibility. The honour of having people trust you with their careers and daily lives is something to be treasured ... Blah de blah de blah. I've even bored myself with these trite platitudes.

Actually, I do think that managing others is a privilege, but what they don't tell you when you land a management job is all the rough stuff that goes with it. The extra hours. The waking up at 2am when you suddenly think "I've really messed that one up". The hours you spend beating yourself up because you handled a personnel issue badly and you can't see how to recover the situation. The paranoia that hits you when you don't get invited to the pub with the rest of the staff. The muttered accusations of hidden agendas when you believe you're being up-front and honest. And no amount of trying to convince people that there is no secret plan, and maybe not even a plan at all, will change the mindset of some of those in less responsible positions than yours.

Yet some of us still struggle with this reality. It can be hard to come to terms with the fact that your staff see you as different from them - they often even see you as less than human. But do you remember what it's like to feel you are at the bottom of the pile in an organisation? Do you remember what you felt and thought about the managers above you - that you could do a better job, that they had all the power, that there was something going on that you didn't know about? It's only when you do the job that you really understand what it entails.

So how do you deal with it? Develop a tough skin. Just do your job well and with integrity, and the results will speak more powerfully than you can. Make sure that you aren't keeping unnecessary secrets. Be open and truthful with your staff and involve them in the decision-making process. Finally, get over yourself. You're not there to be popular; you're there to deliver results for your charity. Focus on that, because at the end of the day that's what matters.

- Deborah Alcock Tyler is chief executive of the Directory of Social Change and a trustee of MedicAlert.

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