The unsafe leader
Updated: Jan 15
It was 2:00 AM.
I was still in the office.
I had been there for hours working on a presentation that I needed to give the next morning. I sat knowing I was capable of the task in front of me, but still staring at an empty document.
My screen was the brightest light in the building.
In the last few years, weekly meetings had become a source of fear. I never felt safe. There was always the potential of a political gang-up session. The 'old ways' of doing things - that had been driving everyone into the ground - had been mostly corrected. The few people still present had been able to leverage the 'old ways' to maintain control and were not happy.
I had been asked to lead and I was.
But what these people really wanted was a puppet.
What ensued was a trauma filled public presentation with a leader in full scale fight or flight mode. Yet, I continued in weekly meetings, and with weekly presentations. I felt noble. I was the bigger person. I wasn’t going to let them win by quitting.
Looking back, it is hard to imagine how I convinced myself that “being the bigger person” meant spending hours on end into the night staring aimlessly at a computer screen while my body endured a trauma response brought on by all the “what ifs” racing uncontrollably through my brain. At some point my brain would become too exhausted to even keep racing in fear. It would be on the verge of falling asleep no matter what I was doing or where I was.
It was in that brief moment that I knew words could come without racing to all the possible distractions. In short order I did what I knew for hours that I could do. In just a matter of 20 minutes I prepared a presentation that would take most others at least 10 hours to craft. That was my superpower and boy did I need it.
Once done, I would limp home, crash into bed, sleep four hours, wake up, shower, make sure I looked like a million bucks to add credibility, and walk in ready to go with a confident smile on my face.
This is what a win looked like. This is what success looked like.
What I didn’t know at the time was that I was slowly deteriorating.
And beyond the impact professionally, my slow deterioration would have even more enormous ramifications on me and my family.
I was willing to put up with the trauma of the present for the sake of a possible harvest of joy tomorrow. The held pain, fear, and suffering never cooled. When my emotions, mind, and body were finally overwhelmed and could not take it any longer the ways in which that trauma was released hurt many people. It caused me further pain, it hurt those dearest to me, and undid much of the good work I had done.
I suspect there are other leaders who have felt some if not all of these things. To you, I want to say, “there is another way.” Leading with wholeness means learning your limitations. Learn to care for yourself well, and you will care for others better. For those who don’t know how, there is help.
I and others have special places in our hearts for helping leaders move towards enjoying the present so they might be most effective for their future.