Do you know what people love about a man who has all the answers?
NOTHING! He’s not relatable. He’s fake. He’s a mask. He’s a coward. A man who has all the answers is afraid to let people see his failures and the crazy part is this; people see right through you. In our own fantasy we protect our image but lose our integrity. We miss opportunities to support our team because we are unwilling to risk defamation.
It all began with good intentions. I was returning from a serious business meeting out of the country that had taken me away from the office for a significant amount of time. This particular trip had been exceptionally bizarre. The client was the most demanding I had encountered to date and at times almost unreasonable. If not for some of the seasoned executives and partners in attendance the project would have crashed and burned before it ever got off the ground.
One morning half-way through our trip my colleague barged through my hotel door in a panic. I was still recovering from a bad case of Giardia (think several weeks of Montezuma’s Revenge on crack) most of us has contracted from the local water. He told me we had to leave immediately. There had been an incident on the way to meet our client. Our lead partner had been severally injured less than a half-mile from where we were staying and we needed to get there as soon as possible. Our entire team headed out and worked endlessly to resolve the issue but as these things typically play out, he was pronounced dead shortly after leaving the scene. Initially our company was understanding and supportive. Although these types of things weren’t uncommon in the region, the nature of the incident was particularly disturbing to our group. However, this was still business and within 48 hours pressure began to mount to once again meet the client. After several long engagements and many Authentic Leaders filling the crucial gap left behind by our partner, we were able to pacify our client and return home.
When I arrived back at the office, I found my team had grown in talent during my absence. The duties that I had taken on as President were now being executed by the VP or delegated to one of our lower level managers. Initially when I began to reestablish my role, I found that many of the processes I had put in place had been revised without my consent. I understand now that due to the time our overseas client required the revisions were necessary to keep our business running. Regardless, the emotions of a tragic trip and failing to navigate my way back into the daily schedule was beginning to take its tole. I clearly didn’t have all the answers as to how I would reassert myself, how I would deal with loss of our partner, or how I would manage expectations. Here’s what I thought I knew though. I wasn’t about to show weakness to a team I was supposed to be leading.
As challenges began to arise in the office I became more secluded, only focusing on the tasks I was exceptionally good at. Projects that were challenging were hidden from my team. It was not their problem to solve nor was I about solicit input. Here is the issue with seclusion. We build walls hoping to stop our struggles from spilling over onto the team. Problem is though, a wall…is a wall. It prevents your team from gaining access to you when you’re needed and if you build enough of them around you, they call that a prison. To make matters worse our client from overseas began to make late night calls, I presume because of the time difference. He wasn’t interested in doing business again rather, rehashing our prior work together. He insisted to keep me up several nights a week discussing my failures yet at the same time coercing me into believing the only real meaningful work I had ever done was with him, insisting yet again our relationship was the only role I was suitably qualified to fill. I began to suffer not only mentally and emotionally from the stress, but physically as well. Eventually I became addicted to prescribed medication and in time it was no longer enough to ease the pain. I began to add other substances and distractions in the mix as my performance in all areas became more erratic and less stable. I was a great leader once. What had happened? Where was I going with this? My nine-to-five life looked perfect from the outside, but internally we were falling apart. I felt the company moving, but I was no longer in the driver’s seat. My team had lost confidence in my ability to lead but rather than asking me to resign simply continued to drag my dead weight. I was told once, “Pride is the only disease you can have that makes everyone else sick, but not you.” That’s when a small idea became a revolution. Not only was I in the wrong business for where I wanted to go, but in order to become an Authentic Leader again, I was going to have to confess my struggles and addiction to my team.
After being invited to an exceptional consultancy firm I began to grow spiritually, mentally and recover physically. Although the reveal of my tribulations to the team was devastating, I worked tirelessly, and continue to do so, to regain their trust. The lessons of leadership and empathy I learned through this journey became my passion. It became my purpose. I became myself.
Here is the incredible truth. My failures and trials were what uniquely qualified me to follow my dreams. It allowed me to sit in a position where I have suffered and endured what many have but the difference is, I survived it. I came out refined. At the time of this writing thousands have heard our story of grace and I’ve met with numerous individuals and teams inspired by the joy I’ve found on the other side and my new role helping others discover what they were created for. Now here is the plot twist.
This morning when I arrived at work I felt challenged to write something real. I felt people needed to understand. This story is 100% true however, the people and places are not. I’m not talking about business. I’m talking about my life! My meeting out of the country was my 4th tour in Afghanistan. This makes my ass-hole client obvious. The deceased partner; a close friend, combat leader, and Authentic Leader. The hotel, a tent. My office is my home. My team is my family. My consultants, you know who you are. The struggle is real. The addiction was real. The nightmares were real enough. The grace and purpose I’ve found in my testimony; that was a miracle.