Staying The Leader You Must Be

Staying The Leader You Must Be

It was a tough couple of weeks. The cocktail of challenges was impacting our performance. We needed stronger results… now. I didn’t realize how much my stress showed on the outside. A trusted leader on my team, shared bluntly: “You’re changing.”

The words stung with fierce truth. He was right. Succumbing to the leadership squash sandwich, I was taking on familiar, but unwelcome behaviors common in such scenes. I was showing up weirder.

“To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”
~ E.E. Cummings

I was worried for our mission, our cause, and our careers. My passion to protect my team took on an ironic intensity. My supportive style had morphed into frantic control. I began inviting myself to calls and requiring more rehearsals before executive readouts. Instead of trusting my competent team, I scrutinized each page of every PowerPoint deck. My efforts to protect them from my stress had backfired.

I had stopped leading like me. The words still echoing from the first conversation, my phone rang again. I now knew my team was tag-teaming this intervention.

“I joined this organization because I believe in your leadership. Your rare style works. Stay the course. We believe in you, in us, and the mission. Every one of us has your back. Just tell us what you need.”

Time to be the leader I must be.

What My Team Reminded Me About Being A Leader

  • Showing up tough is weak
  • Servant leaders must also receive
  • Great teams hold their leader accountable
  • I want to know the truth
  • Great leaders tell the truth
  • Courage means staying true to your style
  • My team needs me to lead like me

When times are tough, it’s easy to doubt our instincts. Under times of pressure, authentic leadership matters most. Tell the truth. Involve them in the situation, and trust them to be part of the solution.

Your turn: What has your team taught you about being an effective leader?
Filed Under:   Authenticity & Transparency, Career & Learning
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt, is CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders and a former Verizon Wireless executive. Karin was named on Inc.’s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference, the American Management Association List of 50 Leaders to Watch, and as a Trust Across America Top Thought Leader in Trust. She’s the award-winning author of two books, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results— Without Losing Your Soul, and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss. She’s regularly featured in business publications including Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Inc.

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What People Are Saying

Ali Anani (@alianani15)   |   02 December 2013   |   Reply

Karin- this is a dramatic post. A leader knows what is right and adapts to keep his/her balance. Change could impose change of direction, change of feeling, change of faith, change of self. But a true leader keeps faith in what makes a good leader. He/She avoids weaknesses, loss of assertiveness, loss of the desire to learn and move on with a renewed spirit. Followers may lose faith and sight, but true leaders don’t; else they aren’t leaders any more.

letsgrowleaders   |   02 December 2013   |   Reply

Ali, your comment is beautiful and could be a post in itself. “A true leader keeps faith in what makes a good leader.” Indeed.

Ali Anani (@alianani15)   |   02 December 2013   |   Reply

Karin- I am eager to read your post on this.

letsgrowleaders   |   02 December 2013   |   Reply

Ali, will work on it ;-)

Michelle Spear   |   02 December 2013   |   Reply

What a great (and timely) reminder! Sometimes we just get caught up in the detail and miss the big picture. We don’t realize that we are dis-empowering our team, and sucking the energy from them.

letsgrowleaders   |   02 December 2013   |   Reply

Thank you. Leadership is all about energy…

Steve Borek   |   02 December 2013   |   Reply

What teams have taught me about being an effective leader? Less is more.

letsgrowleaders   |   02 December 2013   |   Reply

Steve, Totally agree.

Rev. Renee Ruchotzke   |   02 December 2013   |   Reply

This is such a great reminder to make space and giving permission for the team to reflect back when the leader is starting to go off track.

letsgrowleaders   |   02 December 2013   |   Reply

Renee, Thanks so much. Space and permission… great adds.

Bill Benoist   |   02 December 2013   |   Reply

Hi Karin,

I really enjoyed this post. You are spot on in so many ways with what you write.

I would like to add on your final comment about the importance of trusting your team and allowing them to be part of the solution. As you also demonstrated in the post, its important our team trusts us to be comfortable in reminding us what they require from us as leaders.

letsgrowleaders   |   02 December 2013   |   Reply

Bill, Terrific add… it’s so vital to trust your team and be open to hearing the impact you are having.

Matt McWilliams   |   02 December 2013   |   Reply

What has my team taught you about being an effective leader?


It started with asking for and receiving feedback (

Then I was able to make the changes necessary.

In all seriousness, I’ve learned about 20% of my leadership skills from books/recordings. 20% from mentors and other leaders. 60% from my team.

letsgrowleaders   |   02 December 2013   |   Reply

Matt, So glad you extended the conversation with your post. Loved reading about your feedback process and learnings.

Gabriel Dominguez Martin   |   02 December 2013   |   Reply

Thanks for sharing Karin!

I think there’s nothing terribly wrong in showing a weakness or letting some of that stress transpire. What’s very important, in my opinion, is what you do right after the “You’re changing.” comment. The way you handle the situation after that really defines you as a leader. And the fact that you built a team that allows for honest feedback like that also speaks volumes of the leadership and the team.

letsgrowleaders   |   02 December 2013   |   Reply

Gabriel, Appreciate your comment. You raise an important point… how we react is vital. If you want more feedback, respond well.

Jon Mertz   |   02 December 2013   |   Reply

Karin, Great post! My team teaches me a lot. A few things include:

– Keep learning and trying new things
– Keep letting go of things, giving responsibility and accountability
– Keep communicating in different ways to get the message and direction across

Leading well requires us to take note from our teams and keep improving what we do while leading from a place of trust and integrity. Thanks!


letsgrowleaders   |   02 December 2013   |   Reply

Jon, Thanks. Great additions. Teams inspire our learning in so many ways.

Sam @ Sandler   |   02 December 2013   |   Reply

Another great post Karin. ee cummings is one of my favorite poets as well and I love that quote from him. I agree with everything you wrote here. Telling the truth and involving yourself in the situation is the best way to lead a team.

letsgrowleaders   |   02 December 2013   |   Reply

Sam, Great hear your voice. “Involving yourSELF in the situation…” Amen.

Anonymous   |   02 December 2013   |   Reply

Love this post Karin! I adore your transparency and ability to allow others inside! Thank you for your passion to protect the organization and our careers! Much appreciated!

LaRae Quy   |   02 December 2013   |   Reply

Loved this post! Thank you for being so transparent, both to us and to your team. Those moments when you stop long enough to mentally give yourself a slap on the face and “get back to basics” are hard but essential.

I loved all your points but these two were the ones that really resonated:

Showing up tough is weak
Servant leaders must also receive

Way too many people think that showing up tough shows they have a strong mind that can handle whatever is thrown their way – wrong! If you need to show up tough, you’ve already lost the game.

The other point about servant leaders…so true that they need to receive as well! Again, often overlooked because they find themselves in a routine that doesn’t allow others space to give back.

P.S. Glad you’re back to being you!

letsgrowleaders   |   02 December 2013   |   Reply

LaRae, Love that “mentally give yourself a slap on the face.” “if you need to show up tough, you’ve already lost the game.” ahh yes.

Lolly Daskal   |   02 December 2013   |   Reply

Great Post!

We learn from teams, and teams learn from us.

Learning is growing and growing is leading.

Life is lived in cycles and leadership is experienced in succession.

I particularly admired the vulnerability of this post- a true leaders heart’s voice.


letsgrowleaders   |   02 December 2013   |   Reply

Lolly, So agree. Leadership is never handled. I love your vision of cycles….learning cycles… heart-centered cycles…

Alli Polin   |   03 December 2013   |   Reply

Awesome post, Karin. My teams have taught me that while others may look to me for all of the answers, they are the ones that have them because they are closest to the details. Instead of being the go-between, I need to put them in the light so everyone can see their strength. I also vividly recall asking lots of questions not so I can “know it all” but so I can use my curiosity to strengthen them, not poke holes.

The situation you describe is definitely one that’s oh-so-familiar.


letsgrowleaders   |   03 December 2013   |   Reply

Alli, Thanks so much. Questions are so important in leadership. The right questions with the right tone are so powerful.

Michael Gardner   |   03 December 2013   |   Reply

Hello I am new here and a team leader about to take on a sales managers role. I have enjoyed the reading here and comments. I hope that I can use them to better myself and create a strong team. Thank you

letsgrowleaders   |   04 December 2013   |   Reply

Michael, I’m so glad to have you as part of hte LGL community. I do think there will be many posts here that can help you in your new role. If you have particular topics you would like to see, please let me know (through comments, or you are always welcome to reach out to me in email).

Here’s an older one you may enjoy.