How Do You Show Up in Moments that Matter Most?

“Why do some leaders make such stupid decisions when leading their people?” It’s a question I ask myself from time to time, especially as I hear stories from clients on their experiences with their leaders.

Case in point, a recent story I heard from a client of mine, really left me scratching my head.

A few years back, her father had a stroke. An ambulance rushed him to the hospital. My client got a call from her mother, and she immediately left work to go to the hospital. After a few agonizing hours of waiting, the doctors informed the family that the prognosis was not good and there were few signs of hope. It was devasting news for my client and her family to hear.

After internalizing the news, my client immediately called her manager and told him what happened. She then shared with me that the first words out of his mouth were: “I just want you to know that you’ll need to use your vacation time for any days you take off.” She told me she was stunned by his response. She said there was no expression of sorrow nor sympathy for what my client and her family were going through. As she retold the story, I could still sense her anger and frustration even though many years had passed since this happened.

Now in trying to understand this manager’s approach, one could say he was doing his job and following the HR policies of his company. However, his inability to show up when it mattered to his direct report, left a permanent negative memory of that experience with her. It also fundamentally changed the nature of their relationship.

As leaders, we encounter a countless number of moments that we must lead through. How we decide to show up in those moments matters to the people we lead.

In my book, The Leadership Contract, I referred to these as “small d” leadership decisions. We encounter them many times in a typical day. These can be simple and at times even appear inconsequential. However, they are essential, and they can play a crucial role in shaping who you are as a leader and in shaping the experiences of those that you lead. Here are some examples:

  • When a direct report on your team fails on a project – how do you respond?
  • When you receive bad news about a critical company issue – do you freak out?
  • An employee opens up and expresses doubt about their capabilities or confidence to get something done – do you respond with encouragement or undermine them further?
  • A direct report is dealing with a demanding and stressful situation in their personal life – do you acknowledge it with empathy or ignore it altogether?

A lot is written today about the importance of companies managing the employee experience. The research reveals that there is a significant productivity boost to be realized when done well. I find that leaders play a critical role in shaping the experience of the people they lead. Therefore, all leaders must be more mindful and deliberate in how they show up in moments that matter. 

The challenge I find is that many leaders do not pay enough attention to these small d decisions or moments they find themselves in regularly. Many admit this to me in my conversations with them. If this is you, then it’s time that you start taking these small d decisions seriously. It’s time you become more deliberate in your leadership decisions. So how can we become better at this? The next time you find yourself at that moment when a small d decision must be made, ask yourself:

  1. How must I show up as a leader at this moment?
  2. What is my obligation at this moment to the people I am leading?
  3. What do my organization’s core values dictate that I do in this situation?

This week’s Gut Check for Leaders blog asks you to pause and think about: How Do You Show Up in Moments that Matter Most?

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