Leadership Essentials: Caring

The Event

I remember the day vividly. Lisa and I were meeting for a one-on-one. She was my manager’s manager and every couple of months I had the opportunity to sit down with her and talk. We both sat at a table in a larger-than-needed, stereotypically drab conference room. As was typical for Lisa, the conversation started with me and how I was doing then it moved to my family and, finally, work. She always made sure she knew what was going on in the lives of the people she served and wanted them to understand how intensely she cared.

I had no idea that the conversation that day would be truly life-altering for me. I don’t remember what we were discussing but as I was jotting down notes I said, “if only I could write.” This statement wasn’t just an acknowledgment of a mistake I had made but, in Lisa’s mind, this was a statement of self-doubt.

She immediately stopped me. She asked, “Would you say that to your Bridget or Felicity [my daughters]?” and “What gives you the right to talk that way about someone I care about?” She forced me to verbally answer each question and as I did, I became upset with her (after all, how dare she question something I had been doing for all my adult life!). She was telling me that my self-deprecation needed to end. I was a bit ashamed of myself because I realized I would never want to hear my kids say anything like what I had just said.

My anger didn’t last long, though, as Lisa expressed her care and concern for me but she didn’t stop there. I had expressed to both my manager and Lisa my desire to be in a formal managerial/leadership role. She took this opportunity to explain that if I didn’t have confidence in myself, no one else would either and she would never recommend me for such a role until I respected myself enough to stop the negative self-talk.

The Effect

More than five years have passed since that meeting. It changed me. In the ensuing years Lisa and I worked together until I learned to control the negative self-talk and see the positive in myself and more readily in others. A few years later, Lisa promoted me to manage the team I was on.

So, what is the true effect of leadership? In my experience, it changes the people you serve. True leadership is about caring about individuals, helping them become their best; it is helping those you serve understand they are capable of more than they think.

Good, better, best never let it rest ’til the good is better and the better is best

As you lead (in whatever capacity), I challenge you to help those you lead improve–from good to better and from better to best.

A short conversation started me down the path that ultimately led to a changed trajectory and caused me to improve. If you think you don’t impact those around you, you are wrong. You, too, can be the catalyst of change for those you serve.

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