Not All Leadership Is Created Equal
Not All Leadership Is Created Equal
I’d just gotten to work for my weekly office day, and was heading into our team meeting when I heard my desk phone ring. I answered that call on Tuesday, August 17, 2004, but can still remember it like it was yesterday. The voice on the other end of the phone wasn’t an anticipated customer or coworker. It was my aunt, whom my mom lived by.
My heart skipped a beat as my body and mind froze. She wouldn’t call me at work unless something horrible happened. She said something like, “Pam, your mama isn’t doing good. I took her to the Winnie hospital in the middle of the night; they are moving her to a hospital in Beaumont. The doctors think you and your brother need to get here as soon as possible.”
I don’t really remember the rest of the conversation other than I was going to call my brother. When I asked to talk to my mom, she told my aunt that she didn’t feel well enough to talk to me. My mother always had something to say, so I couldn’t imagine how horrible she felt.
The next few hours were filled with lots of back and forth of the swell of every emotion between hope to despair almost simultaneously, to trying to get my surreal mind to think about practical logistics.
My brother and I lived in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, which was about five hours from Beaumont. We went through all of the options and decided that he’d fly to Beaumont on the next available flight. Then I’d drive so we’d have a car.
When Leaders Care
However, that morning when I arrived at the office, I discovered my tire was flat and needed to get a new one before I could leave. One of the managers, Derrick, took me to the tire store, then to lunch while they replaced my tire. He encouraged me to fly down with my brother.
My mind was fuzzy and making decisions felt overwhelming. On a whim, I took his advice and booked a plane ticket. I think he knew I had no business driving five hours alone since concentration wasn’t part of my bandwidth. He even took my brother and me to the airport a couple of hours later.
My mom was in ICU for almost three weeks before she passed. During that time my actual boss, Scott, checked in on me but always told me to take the time I needed and not worry about work. Of course, work was a bit of a mental diversion, because thinking about it felt normal. However, in general, I was like a walking zombie during those weeks, so nothing felt normal, and just being present for my mom and doing things like eating took all my energy.
When I returned to work after the funeral, my bosses again let me come and go at my own pace for about a month. They let me grieve. They catered to my definition of a work-life balance.
People Reward Leadership That Cares
In return, I didn’t want to disappoint them. Their response to a life-changing loss cultivated a loyalty to both the managers and the company— I worked there nine years.
A little over a decade later, when my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer, the company I worked for was actually the opposite. My managers didn’t care about what I was going through, which my heart equated to they didn’t care about my dad. They only cared if I exceeded my sales goals despite being on a sporadic FMLA and missing at least a week a month of work. I was thrilled I was at 100% of my goal that year.
What happened after my dad passed? I resigned two weeks after the funeral.
It worked out because it led me to start Happier @ Work. Sometimes when the people you work for appear heartless, you ask bigger questions — and that’s a different post. However, if they’d treated me as well as the company I worked at did when my mom passed, I’d probably still be there.
When the people you lead are going through challenging personal times — the loss of family members, friends, parents or pets (some companies offer pet bereavement benefits), divorces, parenting frustrations, empty nest transitions, their health issues or those of people they help caretake — the way you treat them, either fosters loyalty — or makes them wonder if you have a soul.
Be The Leader Who Cares About The People You Lead
There’s no one way to manage an employee who’s going through an extended difficult time — your actions will need to be customized to where the employee is at any given time. Therefore, you’ll need to be aware if they need motivation, inspiration, rest or kindness. You may need to take something off their plate or push them a bit to get back into their routine. It’s not easy, but it has long term benefits.
When you show you care about your team members by helping them navigate big personal challenges, then you foster an employee that also cares about you, your goals and those of an organization.