I saw a post that left me with that ‘ugh’ feeling deep in my gut…it was lumping leaders into boxes of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ based on eagerness to be measured by an assessment. There are many reasons why a leader may be hesitant– from poorly managed past assessments to personally not feeling psychologically safe – a lack of eagerness isn’t a sign of ‘bad’ leadership. Quite frankly, if you go in with the perspective that the leader is ‘bad’ because of this, you aren’t going to make progress. You’ve already sealed their fate with your belief.
I just don’t see life – or leadership– as being so simple that you can box someone into being good or bad. It is an unfair and false dichotomy. It ignores the complex conditions we all operate in – professionally and personally – and fails to see the full human behind the title of ‘leader’. There is a lot of pain in the world and there is a better path forward than shaming and blaming. We all wake up each day with different worries, obligations, and complexities of life that few others can see. And with those in tow, we set out to do the best we can with what we have to give that day. My view is that every one of us are complex mosaics of good and bad. We have wonderful qualities and we have rough edges – no one is spared from the latter. And we know the more stressed out we feel, the rougher our edges tend to get – towards everyone around us.
As a leader, executive coach, and consultant, I have worked with many other leaders throughout my career. I feel like it is important to be honest and name it – being in a leadership position is hard. The to-do lists grow exponentially every day. The higher in the organization you are, the more the pressures and responsibilities intensify while becoming less visible. Add in the fact that as the to-do list grows, the first thing that tends to get tossed off ‘the list’ is anything associated with self-care and renewal – it’s no wonder burnout and behaviors from the rough edges can intensify. What is often labeled as ‘bad’ leadership is actually the result of long-term self-sacrifice – not a ‘bad’ person/leader.
As I think about the leaders I have worked with that would probably have been lumped into the ‘bad’ leader group, what stands out to me most is just how deeply they cared even when others couldn’t see it. They care deeply about the people they work with, the work they do, the organization, and the mission. In action, that care resulted in sacrifices of their personal time and energy to the point that they couldn’t remember the last time they weren’t feeling burnt out or did something that would be renewing. The problem is, you can’t pour from an empty cup. You cannot care for anyone else well if you haven’t taken care of yourself first. This was those leaders’ mis-step – they cared so much that they put everything else ahead of themselves until they couldn’t anymore, rough edge behavior became more prominent, and they end up being labeled a ‘bad’ leader as a result. (Believe it or not, a leader who cared to the point of burnout is the reason I got into this field. Their hurt, hurt me, and that shifted me into this path.)
The above encompasses is why proper leadership development and coaching from a place of compassionate is so important. Everyone needs someone in their corner to give feedback on behavioral patterns that are getting in the way, to hold up a mirror, to ask the right questions and spark new insights, and to maintain accountability. Further, those behaviors from the rough edges can be gently identified along with the impact they’ve unleashed, helping to pinpoint where scraped-up relationships may need some healing attention to move forward. With a positive light, and outside of the scope of shame and blame, growth and new directions can be uncovered and promoted with great benefits. No one is all good or all bad, but with a compassionate coach, we can move through life and leadership with our gifts to the world in the forefront.