Kevin was also the father of two young boys, and he and his wife had just uprooted their family to take this new position within a reputable healthcare company in the Midwest. What everyone saw when they looked at Kevin was all polish and friendliness – he wore polo shirts and matching socks and a big smile on his face wherever he went. You never heard a complaint out of him.
What people didn’t realize, which he uncovered through 1:1 coaching we did together, was that Kevin was wracked by anxiety and self-doubt. His persistent stories, ones he told himself on loop, were I can’t be a bother to anyone and I have to keep my boss happy at all costs, or else. How that played out was Kevin working very long days at the office, even weekends, often missing out on precious time with his young family while they were growing and settling into their new environment.
When his employees wouldn’t meet expectations, instead of having candid conversations with them about their performance so they could improve, he would brush it off in public and then lose himself in the wee hours of the night fixing their mistakes so his boss wouldn’t find out (or else).
When he felt his peer wasn’t demonstrating the organization’s value of teamwork, he internalized it and created fictions that it was something he had done, some inadequacy on his part, so he needed to work harder and be better. (None of which was true.)
Can’t we all relate?
What Kevin came to realize through coaching was that he had a unique perspective to share and that it was not only his job, but a great opportunity, to influence and lead his organization in a productive manner. This is in contrast to his practice of taking on other people’s dysfunction as his own. As his leadership voice clarified, Kevin’s anxiety diminished and his positive contributions to his team expanded. As he practiced various ways to communicate in those moments of challenge or upset or unmet expectations, he flourished and so did those around him. While his organization promoted him and acknowledged his tremendous growth as a leader over those 12 months, his personal highlight of that journey will always stay with me.
He told me, in a handwritten card some months later, that going through this process of discovering who he was as a leader and who he wanted to be not only helped improve his experience and results at work, it also made him a better husband and father. And, really, isn’t that the most important part?
Kevin is just like me and you. We all can easily forget how much we matter, how much we lead without realizing it, in those obvious moments and in between ones. Acknowledging our role, understanding more clearly who we are, and defining how we want to lead others is the work. And it is work so worth doing.
Some questions for you:
- Where do you play small at work? Where could your voice make things better for people?
- What stories are on loop in your head that diminish your sense of value? What would be possible if maybe, just maybe, those stories weren’t telling you the truth?
- What do you need to feel safe enough to step out, to add your voice, to own your leadership?