Sometimes things change in a way you don’t like, want, or expect. I refer to this as getting “lifed” — life just throws a major curve ball and you find yourself suddenly having to deal. This can happen at work — a big announcement, a favorite leader leaving the company, a horrible new boss, or being given the opportunity to go be successful somewhere else. It definitely happens outside of work — and, well, that list of possibilities is pretty endless.
These are the kinds of changes that rock your world, the kind that make you ask the big questions about life — questions about purpose, identity, even your existence on the planet. I can honestly say I’ve had those moments, that I’ve been through what feels like my fair share of difficult life changes. I’ve shed a lot of tears, attempted to drown my sorrows in a few bottles of red wine, and spent more time grieving than I care to remember.
But like many others I know, I found my way through the dark times and back into the light, learning some very valuable lessons about myself along the way. It is easy to think the universe is acting against you, but actually it is quite the opposite. Ultimately, those experiences have an important purpose: to create the space for more of your true self to emerge. What you believe about these experiences, the meaning you give them, really matters. I know a young woman who has been through quite a lot in life, and she has shown some courage and resilience through it all. But in the end, she chooses to be a “victim” of circumstance, someone who “can’t catch a break” — even though I’d say she’s had a lot of breaks, whether she recognizes & acknowledges them or not.
I believe you have to claim the life you want to have, no kidding — the whole kit and caboodle. Every choice, every decision has impact, both now and for your future. Every break down is an opportunity for a break through.
When it comes to handling life’s challenges, leaders have a tremendous opportunity to impact those they lead. How you handle your setbacks, your detours, sets the example for others you lead. And how you react to them when they are struggling means more than you may realize.
There is one particular leader with whom I had a difficult experience overall. I was going through some rough times and it was affecting my mood at work; I was usually really positive and up beat, but wasn’t feeling like my normal, shiny self. One day, she asked me if I was okay. I tried to explain things, but she kept interrupting, trying to convince me I had it all wrong. It seemed my feelings were really inconvenient as far as she was concerned, and I gave up trying to talk to her. In fact, in a matter of minutes I lost all remaining trust and respect for her — not that there was much left from some of my prior experiences — how she talked disparagingly about other people who had worked for her, the way she held other people accountable to standards she did not meet… there was a litany of things that just went against my own values, not to mention what I understood about our company’s values. But from that day forward, I resolved to do my job, serve my people the best way I knew how, and make exit plans.
Everyone gets “lifed” once in awhile. It is a natural, necessary, and universal part of the human experience. For leaders, empathy and compassion are possibly the most important tools in your leadership toolkit. Your ability to embrace both the opportunity and the suck as equal partners in the personal change process can make a significant difference for those you lead. And while I understand your ultimate focus is on work and results, connecting human to human is where your deepest power lies. That is where you make your mark, leave your legacy.
Big life changes are an opportunity for something more within a person to emerge, some quality of character to be unlocked or enhanced. As a leader, you have a unique opportunity to bear witness to and support them through that difficult process AND still get the work done.
Open your heart. You'll be glad you did.