This is something I reflected a bit on earlier today, as I´ve experienced many different leaders throughout my 16 years of working in various fields and roles. The personal situation of a leader will affect the organisation and co-workers one way or the other, so what is the best approach?
The traditional way, of course, is to keep it together and pretend all is well. Separate business from your personal life. A leader is someone the others need to look up to, a person who has to be strong and able to handle anything – both personal or professional challenges. Also, it could create insecurity in the organisation, or even worse, someone could try to take advantage of the situation and jump for your position. So better keep your mouth shut and keep your personal challenges to yourself. Right?
Well…. I don´t completelly agree (of course). My experience, both as a co-worker and a leader, is that openness is always the best approach. It might cost you a bit more, ´cause displaying your weaknesses or vulnerable situation can be tough. Ifyou see that you are put in a situation where you´re not likely to perform as usual, people tend to read some signals even if you don´t share. That´s what creates insecurity. Also, it might be that during a difficult period in your personal life, you might react quite differently than you normally would; with irritation, anger, sarcasm, lack of patience, sadness, silence, mood swings, etc. Those kind of reactions are much easier to deal with for those around you if they know and understand why. Opening up towards your co-workers also brings the potential for several positive benefits;
- Easier to delegate, share workload and reduce the pressure you´re facing
- Reduces the extra stress of having to wear a mask, trying to pretend all is fine
- Increases the co-workers trust and confidence in you, by showing that you´re human and that you trust them
- Provides extra opportunity of others getting to test & demonstrate their capabilities
- Strengthens the shared team feeling “Yes, we can!”
- Reduces the risk of negative impact for the organisation/corporation, as it´s less probable that your situation and eventual errors/uncompleted tasks will affect the everyday work. You are not, after all,irreplacable – others cancoveryour areas just as well
- Increases the probability that co-workers will feel confident enough to be open in return when they´re facing a challenging situation,which again will reduce risks ref. to deliverables & reaching targets
- Builds a better fundament for respect, openness and honesty – which in turn creates so much more loyalty than any salary increase or bonus scheme
My message here is simple. I have a strong belief that we all perform best if we are trusted and treated with empathy. If we experience that our co-workers and leaders truly wants the best for us, want each other to prosper and grow, and that it´s not expected to be flawless or “perfect”, we don´t need to wear a mask at work. It´s so much easier to be ourselves, and so much better for creative processes and the ability to innovate and create change.
This requires that you as a leader leads by example; displaying your own challenges, weaknesses and eventual limitations to expect ref. to availability and job performance – daring to share
who you really are as a person. And being generous – utilizing the situation to allow the people you´re working with to take on new tasks/responsibilities, test their limits, grow and develop to hopefully be even better at it than you. It requires that you know yourself well enough to dare let go of control (which is just an illusion anyway…), and it requires some level of confidence. Don´t be afraid to let others outshine yourself. A good leader has the talent of bringing out the best potentials in others – that is what defines you as a leader.
On my part, I am far from perfect. I can be impatient, too quick at concluding when I get a “great” idea, and I get really frustrated and annoyed if people don´t deliver what we have agreed (unless they are open and let me know in advance, so that we can actually re-plan and shift priorities). Also, for better and worse, I am really direct and can definitely step on people´s toes unintended. I expect a lot from my self, and almost as much from others. And I expect people I´m working with to be self-driven, meaning that once we´ve made plans and delegated responsibilites & tasks, I expect not having to be a baby-sitter. I can definitely be quite tough, and have been working a lot trying to adjust my style to various personality types. It´s a never-ending process, where you also learn a lot. We never know the perfect approach, but as long as we try our best and aim for an open and trust-ful environment, I still think miracles can happen… 😉
Including personal example of my way of handling a difficult time 2 years ago; My father was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and I was still Chairing the YoungShip Oslo branch (while being Secretary General of YS International). The timing was not the best, as it was in the final preparations for the general assembly, budgets and re-elections, with a lot of deadlines and deliverables. I knew my limitations, and understood that I had to delegate the work that I couldn´t handle on my own. The mail is in Norwegian, but basically explains the situation and how this effects me personally and professionally. I had talked to several before sending the mail, agreeing some new responsibility splits and identified the capacity of the others; so I also listed the key most important areas and tasks that had to be handled, and asked the great team of board members I was working with to let me know which areas they wanted to take over. It all went really well, thanks to their dedication and team-work, and I felt so relieved in letting go of the responsibility at that specific time, knowing it was all in the best hands possible.