Leadership Lessons from Pulling the Plug on a 15 Year Marriage…

After 15 years of marriage, one of my best friends and I, became legally separated this month. You know what… maybe it is the HR nerd in me, but I can’t help but see parallels between organizational life and private life.

Yes, it didn’t help that I spent the past two years working 14 hour days (by choice, my employer never explicitly asked me to do this). However, in any important relationship, both parties values need to be aligned, and if one party (or both) are not happy, and NOT moving in the same direction, then more often than not…it is time to move on. This is not a failure, it is just life. It doesn’t mean that you don’t care for each other, it just means, that you have grown into two very different people, and your journey is taking you in different directions. Quite realistically…what relationship in life lasts forever!! People change, organizations evolve, cultures change, and sometimes things just don’t work out….and that’s okay.

It is better to end the relationship than carry on just for the sake of continuing…. to avoid change and the difficulty of starting new…..Staying in a relationship that is not serving you…is still a decision, and the wrong one most of the time. We need to demand better of ourselves and of our leaders to be bold to make decisions, and acknowledge that “mistakes are okay sometimes”. This is how we get better and learn, and it is how we teach others from our own lessons.

It takes leadership to embrace change, and it takes boldness to try something new. Globally, we are facing a leadership crisis. Ironically, there is an abundance of material on ‘what makes an effective leader’. Most of it, however, is vague ideals and not overly helpful. When I reflect on the most effective leaders that I have had the privilege of working with, as well as some of the most terrible leaders, there is so much to learn from both.

The truly exceptional leaders demonstrate soulful leadership in all that they say and do. These leaders are deliberate and in tune with their intentions. These leaders are mindful of what words they use, what tone their message is conveyed with, and selective of what medium they use to deliver their message. These leaders are bold, and at times controversial in what they say or do, because they take a stand for something. Soulful leaders do not just tow the corporate line. They have an opinion and they are willing to stand for something bigger than themselves and their own career.

The people on your team are living, breathing human beings, not robots. One of the biggest competitive advantages that we have over artificial intelligence is empathy. Our capacity to authentically care is something that they have not been able to “master” in the AI algorithm…although some will argue against this…. it is not true.

A good leader knows when one of their core team members has:

  • A sick kid at home
  • Is holding a second job, or completing their degree on the side
  • Is getting divorced
  • Is quitting smoking
  • or their wife is having a baby
  • Etc…

Whatever it may be, if you do not know what is going on in the individual lives of your team, at a high level, then you are not doing your job as a leader. Building strong professional relationships, built on trust is a huge part of leadership effectiveness. Genuinely caring about the people on your team is paramount.

By demonstrating this level of care, on a daily basis, this is the foundation of trust needed to be an effective leader. Trust cannot be built if you do not truly know the people you are working with each day. If you do not know what motivates them, or if “today” is the right day to push/coach them, then how can you be an effective leader? It is a delicate balance because you are not their friend, you are their leader. You must keep a professional tone in all interactions. However, there is nothing wrong with asking , “Do you need any additional support, or do you have any thoughts on how we may better support you with this project?” If you do not check in with your team regularly, then you are failing them as a leader….

The truly extraordinary leaders have a team of people who will go to the wall for them, and in turn, for the organization. This is because the leader has their back. The leader has done the same for them on countless occassions. There is trust. There is the foundation of a strong relationship based on shared values. Maybe the leader has helped the employee advance their careers, or spent hours coaching them, or given them a flexible work schedule when they had a sick child or other personal struggle.

The truly exceptional leaders lead through example. They demonstrate their values in all that they say and do. We need these leaders to create a compelling culture in our workplaces and in our family units. Don’t be the type of leader who sends out emails to your team at 8:30am every Saturday morning. These leaders are often just a product of their culture, but they are only encouraging others on their team to do the same. Demonstrate work-life-balance in your own life if you want your team to do the same for the people they lead. It is critical for the health of the team, and frankly will only benefit the profitability of the organization.

Effective leaders are very firm on striking a boundary between their professional and personal life. No longer, will I be a leader that works 14 hour days. I love to work and it is a big part of my identity. But, I learned the hard way that this does not serve you as a person, it does not serve your family, and it does not serve your team or the organization that you work for. You need to exercise self-care to truly care for your team. You need to take care of your soul and complete self to be a “soulful leader”. The culture of your organization needs to support balance from the top down and encourage it in the lives of its most senior executives to make this possible.

It is a life long journey to be a soulful leader…. one that takes daily reminders, and leadership from the CEO down. As leaders, we need to encourage and demand this of our organizations. We need to address this global leadership crisis so our children know what is healthy behaviour and what values are important. We need to be mindful of our words, our behaviours, and strive to live these values each and every day. This is soulful leadership, and this is what will enable the future growth and prosperity of our community.