Nearly 30 years ago as a ‘newbie’ leader, I found myself in a situation that hit me so forcefully that the echoes of it reverberate to this day.
I was asked to terminate the employment of one of the managers that worked for me. The context isn’t important other than to recall that at the time I was highly ambitious, struggling with imposter syndrome, and with no real level of self-awareness. The culture was 100% outcome focused, direct, and unforgiving.
Initially I went through with the instruction to the point of ending up in a disciplinary meeting with the manager and his union rep. I remember setting the scene and justifying our position, until about 15 minutes in and without warning I saw that what we were doing, actually that what I was doing, was wrong. He had performance issues for sure, however the rationale we were working under was weak and spurious, and I suddenly realized this with startling clarity as I looked at the resignation on his face. This realization came a bit late perhaps, but not too late.
I called a halt to the disciplinary process, ended the meeting, and phoned my boss who with a heavy weariness in his voice accepted my position. I had allowed myself to become seriously compromised. Shortly after, I made a choice to leave the organization.
So exactly what had become compromised? It had felt like there was no choice other than to follow the impulse that emerged from deep within me. When I look back and make sense of what happened I see that a red line I didn’t know I had was crossed. One of my core values had become activated. Today I call that particular value truth, which sits alongside freedom, compassion, and love as the values that guide my decision-making and the type of person I aim to be.
This experience shaped me, and it makes me think that we are all influenced by the challenging events we have lived through, what Bill George calls our ‘crucible moments’. Maybe when we reflect and learn from these experiences we can be clearer about what we stand for. Clear about what we won’t accept or tolerate, and clear about who we are so that in turn we can be clearer for others. When the heat is on and it is time to stand up and be counted, when others are clear about us we can lead with purpose and meaning and achieve things that others can only imagine. Our values become a defining part of our leadership identity, whether we have formal or informal leadership roles.
We often ask people in coaching and in group work to complete a timeline of successes and failures, and to talk about them. We then ask them how these experiences shape what they stand for. These discussions are profound, moving, and powerful, and the effects are long lasting.
Now more than ever we need leaders in all walks of life to be clear about what they stand for, in terms and language that go beyond simple ego and career satisfaction. I invite you to define your values, to be clear about what you stand for, and live your lives according to what you discover about yourself.
“I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become”. Carl Jung
In choosing what to become, it helps to be aware of what is most important to us. If you want help in taking steps forward and exploring what this means for how you lead, get in touch. There are conversations waiting to be had.