Having wanted to get into management since I began working in the hotel industry, I read a great number of articles, took many of online management courses and bashed my brains in with a series of books by the incorrigible hack John C. Maxwell, whose books I now use as coasters. These various essays on leadership praised the manager as the necessary gear that keeps the watch running on time. The lynchpin that keeps the axel on the armored truck of commerce turning. The very cornerstone of the tower of corporate profit. They harp on the leader as a creator, a builder and a listener. But for all these words and qualities, I now know that there is one important factor that Maxwell et al missed when assembling their books on the publishing assembly line: distance.
I have learned through my mentors that, though it was not explicitly said, the distance between the leader and the “individual contributor” is the fundamental difference between them, much like the lack of a prehensile tail separates apes from monkeys. As a leader, I was to be separated from the herd of wild beasts that surrounded me.
Sheep become like shepherd and shepherd become like sheep, but the difference between a supervisor and his team is in the neck tie. Having worn the uniform for four months, I was suddenly given leave to have my own choice of neck ties and, dare I say it, wear my own shirts and suits! Naturally, I wanted to show off my new found freedom, so the next day I came to work in my favorite, lucky neck tie.
I call it my lucky tie, for, without it, I would have no doubt ever landed my first job out of college. I tied it into my usual half-Windsor with a certain flair reminiscent of marines or Indian warriors preparing for battle. I walked into the hotel waiting for someone, anyone, to recognize that I had been stripped of my former uniformed self and was now a true leader. Having received no such recognition in the back halls, I sauntered to the front desk where I knew I would receive it. I was not disappointed.
“Are we all getting new ties?” the young and ever-energetic front desk agent asked. His eyes were glazed over in the hope of a change. I laughed a distant and removed laugh, amused with this absurd idea, as if the dog had just asked if he could eat at the dinner table.
I waved away his question with a condescending grin, knowing he couldn’t come near me, or my lucky tie. I felt powerful. I felt in charge. I felt like a leader.
The next day I came to work in my wedding suit, now almost four years old, which attracted much attention from my team.
“Look at you!” they said. “When did you get to wear your own suits?” I smiled, but received no such praise from my superiors. Could they detect the glossy age of my suit? Could they see the various stains it had accumulated over the course of its long life? Or are they simply following the simple leadership technique of distance?
That night, I went out for a few well-earned drinks with my team and left my lucky tie in the car.