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Reflections on Leadership: All the World's a Stage

by Leadership Participant

“All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts…” William Shakespeare’s As You Like It – Act II, Scene VII

I had the distinct pleasure recently (sarcasm alert) of leading my team through an ERP software upgrade the likes of which had not been seen in many years at IU. It had the potential to turn the university on its figurative ear. It could have significantly disrupted employees’ lives, at least temporarily, by making their benefits and paychecks magically disappear. But it did none of those things, I’m happy to report. I’m almost disappointed to say that it was so uneventful, no one even noticed the culmination of a project that my team had spent the better part of a year on. For an achievement like that, you at least expect a few fireworks and fanfare…but nothing blew up, literally or figuratively. There was no parade…just a lot of people happy to see their paychecks the following month.

I’m told I had something to do with this successful release, but as far as I can tell, I only did one thing. I was a thespian…playing the role of a fearless leader.

I appeared to remain calm in the face of every challenge. I appeared to maintain a sense of humor while others around me lost theirs. I never failed to smile and nod like a Laughing Buddha, as if I knew a cosmic joke that I refused to share.

Was I, in fact, truly feeling that level of confidence? Not really. Things looked desperate all the time – my team of Java developers had to become ERP software developers practically overnight because we couldn’t afford contractors; my business stakeholders were constantly panicking about the timeline and the functionality, and raising these concerns to all levels of my executive management; my peer managers and their teams were constantly bombarded with work requests, mostly from my team, to the point where I’m sure they wanted to throw up their hands and run screaming away. Maintaining all of those relationships, as well as my composure, was extremely difficult. But I couldn’t crack…not with so much at stake.

The reason I put on that brave face? For my team. For the teams we worked with. For my management. To create a moment of Zen in a maelstrom of activity. To help others keep things in perspective. After the chaos/release was over, my team members told me the reason they remained calm and focused: because I never gave them any indication of how critical this project really was. They never saw me stressed, annoyed, angry, depressed, anxious…I was just their cheerful Sherpa to guide them up Mount Everest. And climb they did – and they achieved a software upgrade that was as close to perfection as anything I’ve seen in my career. I couldn’t be prouder of them.

The irony is the praise I received from Brad Wheeler to thank me for my leadership efforts – “you kept things calm and drama-free”. I couldn’t stop laughing. And if there were Oscars for a performance like mine, I would be happy just to be nominated.

Take care and happy leading…


Melanie A Ebdon
Indiana University