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.

Posted in Authenticity & Transparency, Career & Learning and tagged , , , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, Founder of Let’s Grow Leaders, helps leaders around the world achieve breakthrough results, without losing their soul. A former Verizon Wireless executive, she has over two decades of experience in sales, customer service, and HR. She was recently named on Inc's list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers and American Management Association's 50 Leaders to Watch. She’s the author of 3 books: Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul, Overcoming an Imperfect Boss, and Glowstone Peak.


  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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!


  6. 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.

  7. 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!

  8. 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!

  9. 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.


  10. 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.


  11. 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

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