Our 8th Winning Well Principle: Trust the Trenches has so many nuances, all of which I learned the hard way. For me, it wasn’t the delegating, or asking for input, that was the hardest… it was trusting my team enough to be vulnerable. To trust them enough to admit that I’m far from perfect, and having the confidence to know that was okay. I still had vision. And a plan. And we could still win well.
“Because when people see leaders who are real and have real life challenges,
they look at those leaders and say,
“Wow, she’s not perfect.
And I’m not perfect.
And we can still win well together.”
The Hardest Way to Trust the Trenches
I had just been promoted to my first executive job in human resources at Verizon. All the players were new. I had a new boss and an entire new C-level suite to impress. And because sometimes life throws you curve balls, I was also going through a divorce and was trying to navigate an unexpected life as a single mom.
I hadn’t told a soul. My best friends at work didn’t know. And my boss certainly had no idea.
So here’s what I imagined would be said about me.
Well, we know we can’t talk about this, but…
“This is probably not the right time for her. Yes she’s high-potential, but with all this personal stuff on her plate…”
“I’m not sure she’ll be able to manage the travel of this high-profile role as a single mom.”
“She’s young. Let’s skip this round with her, and wait to see how she handles her new life circumstances.”
So I did what I thought was best and ignored the unspeakable.
Which might not have been a terrible approach. Except…
My First Project in the New Role
My first assignment in my new role was to build a diversity strategy. I was to gather a “max mix” of managers (think race, age, sexual orientation) from across disciplines and cultures to talk about the very real challenges that were limiting our ability to have an inclusive culture.
And it was working.
We had an amazing team. And great dialogue. Scott, the gay man, came out to us for the first time at work–and that informed our strategy.
Sherika shared a few horrible examples of being overlooked as a woman of color–and that informed our strategy.
John, who weighed 400 lbs., opened our eyes to discrimination we hadn’t even considered–and that informed our strategy.
We were on the cusp of presenting our recommendations to senior leadership, when Sherika burst into my office, and shared her truth from the trenches.
“Karin you are a fraud.”
“All this time we’ve been talking about diversity, and what really matters. Scott came out to you and you applauded. I shared my story, and you raised an enthusiastic, ‘Game on… let’s address that.” And John was close to tears in sharing his deal, and you wrote the travel policy into the plan. And there you sat, TOTALLY QUIET, as we discussed the challenges for single moms.
Our single mother strategy is incomplete. And you know it.
Yeah, we talked about schedules and daycare. But what about the fact that executives like you have to hide who they are for fear of being discounted?”
Sherika was right.
Imagine the Difference
Sherika shared, “Karin, trust goes both ways.”
“Can you imagine what would have happened if you had told us the truth?”
“Hey guys, this discussion of single moms is only half the battle. Yeah, we need daycare, and flexible schedules. But we also need to make it safe for people to show up how they really are at work. Without judgement. I’m a single mom too. I don’t meet the profile we’ve been discussing. AND I’m scared as hell that the minute people find out that I don’t have a husband, all bets are off.”
THAT would inform our diversity strategy.
Trusting the trenches starts with–trusting the trenches to be who you are.
Sherika’s message changed my approach to leadership forever.
To win the trust of your team, you have to trust them to trust you.
Trust the trenches to accept (and even embrace) that you are human being too.
And lead from there.