top of page

“Would it be wrong to say it’s had a price?” I asked Dan, and he was quiet.

Ever had a conversation you think about a lot afterwards - knowing you were privileged to be part of it. And that somehow it's important not to forget.


I've felt like that every day for 25 years. Over time I've started writing some of these down and I hope somehow they are as valuable for you as they feel for me.


This one was Dan's Story, excerpt below: "When the world woke to COVID no one had a playbook. Adrenalin and agility saw many leaders rise to their finest, sharpest hours. They were Captains on watch when their ships entered cyclonic waters. In the same way you wouldn’t be in a dinghy with a giant swell coming towards you and stop to form a committee, leaders led and followers followed.


“Would it be wrong to say it’s had a price?” I asked Dan, and he was quiet...


 


Asking Dan, a C suite leader, about intrapersonal isolation and loneliness was like putting in an acupuncture needle.There was visceral resistance and deep relief at the same time. I’ve always suspected it feels indulgent for people who are smart, networked, thrive under pressure and have a cockpit-like set of levers and switches to choose from, to consider what is a word mostly used for the disconnected and disempowered.

Plenty of people worse off than me.
Can’t complain.
It’s what you sign up for.
It’s the front line employees I’m worried about.

When the world woke to COVID no one had a playbook. Adrenalin and agility saw many leaders rise to their finest, sharpest hours. They were Captains on watch when their ships entered cyclonic waters. In the same way you wouldn’t be in a dinghy with a giant swell coming towards you and stop to form a committee, leaders led and followers followed. There was uncharacteristically little time for dissent as we set records for the unprecedented use of the word unprecedented.

“Would it be wrong to say it’s had a price?” I asked Dan, and he was quiet.

The last thing most leaders have done is focus deeply on self and impact. There’s been no space or time to divert the shareholder and morale-building employee town halls and allow vulnerability to have its voice. It is counter intuitive in an environment that remains in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) state. Like Dan, most leaders were eyes steeled on Board, shareholder, employee, market and contractor dashboards.

Dan’s success has never been in question. But there always seems to me to be something frustratingly binary about thinking that just because things have gone well it doesn’t mean there has not been a price. In a world privileging toxic positivity, it’s not negative or dooms-daying to name that. It is a risk that we can’t talk about the things that bring us closer, increase our learning and enable a rebalance. Like the athlete who sees the team physio with a tight glute before it becomes a hamstring tear, it is the essence of high performance to visit something before it is in your face.

You choose your timing to process it, or it chooses the timing for you. Take your pick.

Just because you can keep going the same way in a cognitive override of what our biology was wired for, it doesn’t mean you should.


After a brief pause, long hours, decision fatigue, over thinking and difficulty sleeping were on Dan’s list. Like a motor left running overnight in case it was needed, he knew it had been a long time since he turned down the vigilance and he wasn’t sure how.


Under stress, humans revert to doing more of what is their natural tendency. If you consult a lot normally, you over consult. If you are a planner, planning goes into overdrive. If you are risk averse, you go into threat mode. Every decision seemed to churn a fair bit of battery for Dan. Hardly any process seemed organic.


Vulnerability is counter intuitive but is never more necessary for leaders to be well, just like attending to muscles that aren’t causing trouble in pilates, prevents injury later on. If every spot on the dial is a comfortable place to be, you’ll calibrate to the right one. Great that you can sprint. But if you’re only doing one speed, half the time it won’t be the right speed. That’s entirely understandable but it’s not peak performance.


The avoidance of vulnerability is to be in self protection mode. Being in self protection mode is to be defensive. Being defensive is to reduce empathy and lose self compassion, which often results in self destructive behaviours like ceasing exercise, working when sick, taking on things that others can and should do, and pepping up on caffeine and winding down with wine.


Over our 3 conversations, Dan’s sleep reverted back to normal. He reported feeling more back in flow and less isolated even when around others. He could exercise again without being anxious and walk the dog without checking his phone. He developed more bandwidth to focus on other areas, in fact In a text recently between sessions, he asked if we could discuss his role in company culture in our next meeting. I admired him deeply for his hypothesis that as CEO, he must have had a role in writing a story he was uncomfortable reading.


Out running that night, I reflected on how rare it is for a leader to be able to ask that question, and actually, what incredible hands his company were in with his leadership.


Follow the conversation on this article on LinkedIn

11 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page