Leadership Confidential: The Dark and Messy Side of Being More Human

MP900309625I remember this meeting oh so well. It was a dart throwing session where the trees were getting more attention than the forest, one of my all-time pet peeves.

That is, we had drilled down hard on what I thought was a relatively insignificant metric, rather than look at the bigger picture of what was happening out there – improved morale, higher trust, and a turnaround on the “big stuff” (the overall customer satisfaction number, among them).

For a leader that was more human, believing so strongly in putting things in the right context, and focusing on the things that really matter, it was torture.

Strong beliefs get translated to high emotion in our world, because “real-ness” is a quality that makes more human leadership so effective.

So my emotions got the better of me at this meeting, and I was too “real”.

I said out loud what was on my mind.

Why are we spending so much time on this? We chose to look at that instead, and I know we’re better off if we do – you got a problem with that??”

Boom, there it was.

It was the unfiltered me, heart on my sleeve – the dark and messy side of my more human self.

It’s the side I’d rather not talk about  – the frustrations, the anger, and the petulance.   The fact of the matter is, just because you’re more human, and you just KNOW that’s the right way to do,  it doesn’t mean everyone else at your leadership table is going to follow along.

That’s hard to deal with sometimes. I know it was for me, and I was lucky that day that the person who was the recipient of the “you got a problem with that?” line took the high road and held back the return fire.

Sometimes I wasn’t so lucky, and my stridence got me in trouble (it doesn’t help that my voice, by it’s nature, gets louder and louder the more riled up I get).

But here’s the really interesting thing – while the worst elements of this dark and messy side should by all means be coralled and controlled (lest it become mean, distracting, and truly counterproductive), it should by no means disappear.

Challenges to our beliefs, conflict over direction, and a high emotional investment in what we really believe is RIGHT, are all is necessary for real progress as a more human leader.

Why?  If channeled correctly, it becomes jet fuel for our fire.

I can’t tell you how much more motivated I was to be the leader I believed I should be because of those dark and messy moments.

And it wasn’t one of those “I’m gonna prove them all wrong and show them up” kind of motivations either.

It was motivation to be an even more authentic and passionate ME, for the more human principles I had embraced and wanted to push forward.

I ended up taking more chances, and embracing more risk, in working hard to achieve that success trifecta – a successful company, a happy team, and a fulfilled leader.

Because by being willing to walk down the dark and messy road, I could see more clearly what was at stake – and it gave me a chance to defend and articulate those principles and processes.

It refined me, it helped shape me, it PUSHED me forward.

And yes, like that “got a problem with that” line, I went overboard a few times, and I regret that – but I certainly learned from it.

After all, I was more human.





















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