Truth hurts (or does it?)
An interesting thing happened after my previous blog post went out to the world last week.
In case you missed the post, here’s the gist: I wrote about how I was supposed to be on vacation but my team unexpectedly needed me, so I dropped what I was doing to help them. I wrote about how leadership isn’t always convenient, it doesn’t always work with vacations, and sometimes you may resent having to step up—but you do it because you care about your team and you care about your people, and stepping up is what caring leaders do.
In no way was my post meant to be hurtful. I always write about what’s on my mind and my heart, and last week, I was exhausted from helping my team. I was just being honest about how I felt.
During a team meeting a few hours after the post went out, one person told me she needed to get something off her chest before we dove into our meeting agenda. She got emotional as she told me that reading my post that day really crushed her, and that she knew of another team member who felt the same. She said they felt bad that they took me away from vacation, and even worse that I said I resented—at times—having to help them.
Woof. Not exactly how you want to start your weekly team meeting—or is it?
Before I tell you what happened next, let me first explain how far we’ve come as a team and how excited I was that this person shared what was truly on her heart.
Years ago, these types of difficult conversations would have never happened—or at least they wouldn’t have happened so quickly. If someone was upset, they’d walk around hiding it for months (myself included), letting their resentment build until eventually the feelings would surface in an unproductive and unhealthy way. Naturally, the process of sharing those pent-up feelings and dealing with them would break a lot of our team’s trust. No one likes to learn that someone is upset or frustrated with you long after the fact. It can take a long time to rebuild a relationship after that kind of trust is broken.
At the same time, years ago I would have never been this honest about the way I felt in that moment. I was the kind of leader who pretended everything was okay at all times. I was positive 24/7, both to my team and to the world, even when I didn’t feel positive inside. Do you think a team trusts a leader who is always sunshine and rainbows? Who never shows any signs of frustration...ever?
We’ve both come a long way: my team for having the courage to have difficult conversations in the moment instead of sweeping emotions under the rug, and myself for having the courage to publicly own the true feelings that can come along with leading a team and owning a company.
So, back to the meeting. How did we handle it? She told me how she felt. I listened. I validated her feelings. It does feel bad when you need someone’s help and you know that person resented having to help you. I told her how I felt. That it wasn’t fun to stop my vacation and help in a way that I wasn’t expecting to, but that at the same time I love my team and that’s why I help even when I don’t really want to. I said that my commitment is to always be honest and speak from my heart, and that long gone are the days when I filter my words and my feelings. I believe we have a filtering problem in leadership. Too many people sugarcoat how they feel, but I will not. That means sometimes my blog posts will hurt because they will be human and real. And that’s the kind of leadership we stand for in my company.
To help her understand where I was coming from, I challenged her to think of a time when someone in the company needed her help and she chose to step up even though she didn’t want to. Of course she could think of an example; everyone on our team could. Every leader has had these moments. Then I asked her if she felt positive the entire time she helped that person. Of course we don’t always feel positive—but it doesn’t mean we love our team any less. It’s a human reaction to sometimes resent the work that you have to do, no matter who it’s for. Leadership requires sacrifice. It requires putting the needs of the team before your own. Sometimes it means doing something you really don’t feel like doing. You are allowed to feel frustrated in the process. You are allowed to be human.
The moral of the story is that we both had a right to feel the way we did. And the beauty is we could be honest about it, with each other, and with other team members listening in the conversation and providing input. After that meeting was over, I talked to the other person on my team who was upset and had an equally great conversation with her.
My, oh my. Look how far we’ve come.
To my team reading this—I love you and I’m so proud of the trust we’ve built.
To everyone else—I hope this inspires you to be less filtered, more honest, and to lean into difficult conversations so that you, too, can build trust and connection.