Leave Your Burdens At The Door

No one “forgets” their cancer diagnosis, their sick mother, their midterm exams, their custody battle, their abusive relationship. And yet, one of the most frequently uttered phrases in call centers is to instruct reps to “leave their home burdens at home, they won’t help you serve our customers.”

I get it, but I refuse to say it. The truth is, I don’t believe life works that way. Asking employees to “forget” that they’re a human being with burdens and fears does not help them to be more productive.

Sure, no one calls into a call center to hear someone else’s troubles, and we certainly don’t want suffering translating to bad moods and nasty service. But real connection between leaders and employees (burdens and all) creates richer relationships and yes, better productivity.
I don’t know anyone who’s successfully shoved their burdens down indefinitely and showed up brilliant, energized, and ready to connect full-on.

What If You Could See Their Burdens?

“Be kind, everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

(maybe… see other options)

My sister, a Speech Pathologist and Director of Rehab in a hospital, uses this short video to reinforce empathy with staff, Empathy, The Human Connection to Patient Care. Anyone who’s ever walked down a hospital hallway with their burdens can relate.

The truth is, this story exists across every organization, in every hallway and in every meeting. If your team members wore their burdens on their sleeves what would they say?

  • What’s the cost of not knowing your team members burdens?
  • How can you understand your employees, without understanding what weighs most heavy in their hearts?
  • What opportunities do you have for a bit more connection and kindness?

Team members may push their concerns down for a minute, but human beings need connection. Sure there’s HR and great Employee Assistance Programs (EAP),” those are necessary, but not sufficient. I’m not suggesting creating co-dependency or assuming parenting roles, just a bit deeper level of listening, empathy, and connected-solutions.

The best opportunity for real connection starts at the team leader level. Begin with connection and understanding, then bring in reinforcements as needed.

Should You Reveal Your Secret at Work?

You want to show up authentic, but then again not every environment is safe. If you tell your secret, will they admire your courage? Will it bring you closer to your boss and others? Or. Will they judge you? Will doors open or close as a result of your authenticity? Bill Treasurer, author of Leaders Open Doors, shares a powerful story of how revealing a deep secret opened the doors to remarkable opportunity. I admire his courage. At the same time, I can’t help but consider how his story would play out in other contexts with other important leaders I know. I suspect the outcome would be different.

Risky Reveals

A risky reveal can be admitting something from your past, in Bill’s case, he was recovering from a drinking problem. Or perhaps it’s a hidden lifestyle choice. If you’re wrestling with a potentially risky reveal, you know. When Bill shared his secret with his boss at Accenture, it didn’t appear to go well.

Although I didn’t expect my boss to pat me on my shoulder and say, “Good for you; you’re a drunk!” I expected more of a reaction than I got. After I told him that I was in recovery, my boss looked at me quizzically and muttered, “I see.”

As the story plays out, his boss was chairman of the board of directors of a non-profit council on substance abuse. A few weeks after the initial conversation, he gave Bill an opportunity to lead a huge project with that agency, with his full support. That project led to more and grew his career.

To Reveal or Not Reveal?

I asked Bill, “How do you decide?”

  1. Check your motives: Consider why you want this person to know. If you’re looking for sympathy or shock factor, don’t do it. Perhaps you feel it will bring you closer and enhance the relationship, that may be valid reason.
  2. Time it right: Resist the spontaneous spill. Even if the exact moment you chose to disclose feels spontaneous, it’s best to have carefully weighed the pros and cons before hand.
  3. Consider their track record: How have they handled sensitive information in the past? What’s their track record. If you don’t know, be careful.
  4. Allow time to process: Don’t expect an immediate reaction. Your news may be shocking at first, your boss may need time to think before offering a useful response.
  5. Consider outcomes: Think about the potential opportunities and drawbacks of the risky reveal.

If you’re interested in the topic of Trust and Transparency, stop back on Friday for the Frontline Festival when thought leaders around the world sharing their best posts on the topic. In fact, why not just enter your email address below, and never miss a post. Join the LGL community and conversation.

Have you been on either end of a risky reveal?

“But Your Life Looks So Perfect on Facebook”

I just got off the phone with an old friend. She had several important concerns weighing on her heart. We talked about them for a while, and then she shared:

“You know I was talking to another friend about this and she said, “but your life looks so perfect on Facebook.”

I took a quick look at her Facebook page. Of course it did. It’s Facebook. Who wants to put their troubles out there for the world to see? All those great pics are absolutely true. Much in her life is fantastic. And, like every single one of us, other parts are messy.

So What’s This Got To Do With Leadership?

As leaders we work hard to present a “together” image. How this shows up varies on the organization, context and culture.

Maybe it’s…

  • the right shoes
  • perfectly organized meetings
  • perfectly put together wardrobes
  • perfectly polished speeches
  • stories of how your bold career moves worked out just right
  • an office full of awards
  • happy pictures of your happy family
  • ?

I’ll pause here to let you fill in the blank for your world. What is your organization’s equivalent to “looking good on Facebook.”

The truth is, you are also messy. I am also messy. Every member of your team is messy. Life is messy.

We want to believe our leaders have it all together.

We are inspired to think that “perfect” is achievable.

“Perfect” can also be intimidating.

Beyond the “Facebook” Fantasy

What if you…

  • Shared a bit more of your real journey?
  • Anticipated the angst your team members must have in their lives?
  • Made it okay to show up real.
  • Make it safe for your team to talk about the angst?
  • Don’t hold “it” against them.
  • ?

Disclosure in Leadership? The Benefits and Risks of Showing Up Real

If you are like most leaders, you are concerned about your image and your brand. You want to show up strong, confident, and worthy of being followed. But what happens when you’re not feeling strong? What happens when life throws you curve balls to juggle on top of your leadership? What’s the risk of disclosure? What’s the risk of keeping things hidden? In full disclosure, I share a story of disclosure and how keeping things buried can backfire or not.

A Story of Non-Disclosure

I had just been promoted to my first big leadership position in HR, concurrent with a significant merger. All the players were new, I had a new boss, a new team, and new senior leaders to impress. Because life sometimes works out messy, I also was going through a divorce and trying to pick up the pieces in a new life, in a new home, as a single mom. The job required substantial travel to Manhattan and I lived in Baltimore.

One of first tasks in my new role was to build a Diversity strategy. We gathered a fantastic team representing each business unit, and were making great progress creating strategy and programs. I felt great about the relationship I had with this team and the work we were doing was vital.

And then this happened.

One day a women from my Diversity Council burst into my office, pointed her finger at me and yelled, “you are a fraud!” I couldn’t imagine what she was talking about and I was deeply hurt by the remark from this trusted teammate. She went on “I came by your office yesterday when you weren’t here and saw the pictures. They are all of you and your son–no Dad. You lead all these meetings where we work on programs to make it easier for single moms and NOT ONE TIME do you mention that you are one. What else aren’t you sharing?”


The truth is, I had been very deliberate about keeping that hidden. Even my new boss did not know what I was going through. I had heard enough discussion about the concept of “single moms” needing extra care and support so they could come to work on time and not call out sick when their kids were sick. I thought, I’m not like that. I’m a different kind of single mom, I’m an executive. I’d better just keep all this to myself. Oh really?

I began checking around with some other folks on the council. One gay man said, “Karin, you work so hard to get to know us as people and we love that. But, we are starting to wonder about you. You know all about us, but we know nothing about you.”

Clearly, my lack of disclosure had backfired.

Or had it?

Would I have been promoted in the midst of a merger with all new players if my new lifestyle had been part of the conversation? Or, would someone wonder if the “timing was just not right” and the “position really needed to be in NY.”

I will never know.

Footnote: Althought that was a lifetime ago, and I am now happily married with 2 children, I learned a great deal from that experience. I now chose to lead with more transparency.

What’s the right amount of disclosure? What’s the right balance of protecting your brand and being authentic.

What disclosure is good exposure?

This week, I address the issue of trust and authenticity from various angles.. I hope you will tune in to join the conversation.