Have you ever had yourself a humdinger of a week, only to look up and discover it’s only Tuesday morning? I had one of those weeks this week.
I’ve felt angry and sad, frustrated and irritated, disappointed and heartbroken, all of which has left me feeling like I’m exhausted and I don’t want to play anymore. Thankfully, I’m well supported and have been on this merry-go-round of leadership many a time before, so it didn’t flatten me for as long as might have in the past.
This week has reminded me, as happens from time to time, that our work—being dedicated to transformational leadership—can feel like a terrible idea.
There’s a reason you rarely want to stick your head up above the parapet. Doing so makes you a clear target for attack and leaves you vulnerable. Look out! They have arrows!
You take a risk when you stick your neck out, or when, in this case, you take a clear stand for something. Protective walls keep you safe when you stand behind them, not up on top of them.
Being a leader is risky business.
I’m reminded of these wise words from Eleanor Roosevelt: “Do what you feel in your heart to be right—for you’ll be criticized anyway. You’ll be damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.”
Oh, Eleanor, I feel you, hard.
The long and short of it is that Adam and I are planning the annual retreat for The Forge, which we postponed this past year, due to Covid. We’ve spent months waiting and watching and thinking and talking about how to host this event (it’s in Costa Rica) safely and responsibly, given the state of the pandemic and the ever-changing status of approximately everything everywhere.
This week, though, we finalized the decision for the Covid-related requirements for attending the retreat and share it with participants. Ultimately, we created a boundary that aligns with our beliefs about what makes hosting this event as safe as possible for ourselves, the participants who attend, as well as their families at home, and the people hosting us in Costa Rica, as well as the community we will be visiting.
To be totally honest, we expected the reaction we received, which is a reaction I know you can deduce, because you’re living in this world in these times, too. Anyone else ready for some good old precedented times yet? Me too.
While we may have expected the reaction, that didn’t make it any easier to receive. I was disappointed but not particularly surprised, which, in itself, I find even more disappointing, I suppose. In this work we lead, we teach the importance of being able to get people and where they’re coming from. It’s an integral and essential quality in a coach and in a leader. When someone trained in this skill won’t use it, I feel defeated.
I guess that’s the thing about boundaries, though: drawing them is likely to upset people. But not deciding upon a boundary doesn’t mean there isn’t one, and that people won’t be upset. It just means there’s a different boundary, likely for each person involved and all those different individual boundaries are gonna rub up against each other. No boundaries leaves people uncertain and insecure, across the board.
So, for Adam and I, this week has been a hefty reminder, as we receive from time to time, that leadership can be very hard sometimes. That it’s impossible to please everyone, but that pleasing people isn’t the job of leadership anyway.
Sometimes, people will choose out of the possibility you see for them, and out of the possibility they see for themselves. But the thing is, it’s one hundred percent okay for them to choose anything. It’s got to be, or else possibility isn’t even available.
No has to be an option for yes to be a choice.
And what that means is that sometimes, people are going to choose no. Even if you extend an invitation that you truly believe is the best, most-awesome thing in the world, for the very person to whom you’re offering it, they might choose out.
And while it may not feel okay in the moment, or even in the many moments that follow, it IS okay.
And even if it breaks your heart, it IS okay. You’ll be okay. They’ll be okay. Hearts mend. Life goes on.
And if all of this is true, and sometimes people are going to choose no, or choose out, regardless of what you say or do or believe, then, well, I think it’s probably a good idea to at least make sure that what you say, do and believe are aligned with what is true for you.
At the end of the day, leadership might break your heart. But if you’re acting with integrity (your thoughts/beliefs, your words and your actions all aligned), then at least you know you gave it your best shot. And tomorrow is a new day.
The reality of leadership, in my own experience, is that leading comes at a cost, especially if you are committed to leadership as a quality and not just a job title. It means being willing to draw a line where others might not, to stick your neck out when others keep their heads down, to speak out when others withdraw their voices, and to offer people the choice to be in, knowing they well might choose to be out.
And that is heartbreaking. But, as always on the heel of a tough leadership week, I’m reminded and recommitted to leadership being the heartbreak I choose, because it’s worth it.