Practice Leading Where It Matters Most

For the moment the furor has died down.  NFL players who abused their girl friends, spouses or children have been rightly suspended.

For the moment my furor has died down. Once again last week I said things to one of my family members I wished I hadn’t said. The individual reciprocated. I reacted with defensive logic. The logic left them out in the cold and so they got hotter. Voices were raised. Mean things were said. A door was slammed, as doors are slammed, to erect a barrier of safety.  A chill descended.

And here’s my (feel free to join me in the circle, if you dare) dirty little secret:  Authentic leadership is never harder to practice than it is at home!  I preach and most times demonstrate authentic, passionate, egalitarian leadership in my work, but never do I fall further from my ideals and lead with my worst self, than when I am at home.

houseI don’t condone domestic violence. But I have been guilty of it.  Never physical, for which I thank God, my parents, my culture, and the shame and pride that keep me from crossing that uncrossable line. But I have certainly said, and continue to say hurtful things, to the horror of my “best self” intentions, and my leadership ego.

I suspect I am in the vast majority of people who show their ugliest sides – impatience, selfishness, panic, irritation, extreme avoidance or control-freakishness – with those they love the most. We can get angry, hurt, defensive and offensive not despite the fact that these are the people we love most, but in some ways BECAUSE they are the people we care most about.  We are “real” with them. We don’t get to put our work masks on (where we mostly hide all that human stuff, so as not to get fired, sued or just badly embarrassed). We are vulnerable to their words and judgments, their eye rolls and their shrugs and their mean knee jerk utterances.  And we care about our family – almost desperately sometimes – so we try to control those whom we should revere, respect and engage.

Great leadership is passionate but it’s also authentic.  Great leaders CARE about their people and want to give them their best. But maybe we don’t want to ris being that authentic — as we are sometimes at home. So, we stay detached, in control, hiding behind desks, roles, and authority.

And, so that is why home is doubly important: home matters in itself and leading at home teaches us how to lead authentically.  Nobody is more important to me than those at home, so that is where I must continue to learn to stop trying to control others and instead learn to manage myself.  If we can relate person-to-person — without resorting to power plays like command, when we have it, or sabotage and biting sarcasm when we don’t — then we can learn to be even more real with those in our worlds of work.  We can respect them. We can have tough conversations. We can ask for what we need. And we can encourage them to become all that they can be.

What I share with the NFL’s perpetrators is the need to manage me, not control someone else.  That is HARD WORK! But work so worth doing if I am to

Lead with my best self.

  • Oh Dan,
    “Sic transit Gloria mundi”. Time for a large slice of humble pie. Excellent & honest tale.
    From this side of the pond I was thinking NFL stands for “National Felons League’. The danger of a win at all costs attitude in all forms of life. Remember “The meek shall inherit the earth.” May “amor vincit omnia$ at home & work.
    Time to dust yor best self down and lead again!
    Love to you and the family, Phil

    • Phil,
      Amor vincit omnia (“love conquers all,” this I remembered, but I had to look up:) interdum tardius (sometimes slowly!).
      Humble pie sounds so tasty. In practice, it’s a slow and gritty grub!

  • My admission is that I do not pay much attention to the words of a song. My focus keys in on the melody and tone of the work. As a result, I am terrible at karaoke.

    Many home conversations travel on different paths. One person may be reasoned. Another may be emotional. And the next moment the tables can turn.

    Even the best reasoned words may carry a tone that sings a very different tune to your audience. Selecting words carefully is just one part of effective communication. Taking the proverbial ‘extra breath’ before unleashing your point, gives an extra moment to avoid sending a mixed message.

  • Dear Dan, it takes a good deal of courage to admit that “most of the time” we present our unpolished side to those very close to us. We act as the bond existing between us is unbreakable, nothing farther from the truth. All relationships, including those by bloodlines, especially those, need nurturing and constant care. I guess we no longer live the times of iron-fist parenting. We need to say “please” and “when you get a chance” and most importantly “Thank you”. Thank you for letting us be part of their life, for sharing the good and bad moments, for choosing us when they need a favor. It is wonderful, to have someone calling you by your name, or dad or uncle, with a smile in their face. Thank you Dan for bringing this subject for us to reflect on it.

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