I’ve started and erased this blog several times now. Usually I can sit down with a topic and whip out a blog post in about twenty minutes that I’m happy with. I don’t seem to have the focus that I normally have. So that is now my topic! I think I know why though – like much of the United States, I’ve been keeping tabs on Hurricane Sandy and its effects on the East Coast. This type of storm brings up many emotions. I rode out a Category III hurricane about ten years ago in Virginia so there are the memories of that storm. No major damage to her house but it was an experience! My husband and I have many friends that live on the East Coast so we are concerned for their safety. Lastly, I have the utmost empathy for the people affected by the storm right now due to our experience with the Joplin Tornado last year. I saw firsthand what massive devastation looks like, as well as the outpouring of humanity and good will from fellow human beings helping each other during a time of need. Why would I bring this up in a blog that normally centers on leadership thoughts? Because this is the perfect time to talk about how leaders have to deal with people when they are sidetracked.
I won’t go into the leadership aspects of a catastrophe. I think we all can understand the need for solid leadership during a crisis. I want to focus on everyone else when they are distracted by personal emotions and issues. Right now, my mind is thinking of many other things than focusing on my work at hand. To put it bluntly, that is unacceptable, especially when there is work to be done. However, as leaders we have to deal with the fact that people are emotional and everyone has their own individual history and issues. If someone on the team is having a hard time at home, it is likely that struggle will impact his or her performance at work. Work performance problems will likely spill over and affect other members of the team which just cascades the issue.
This is not an easy line to walk for leaders. We want to support our people because we care about them but we are all working because it is work. Many times, people in leadership are looked to for all of the answers – both at work and at home. I admit, I’ve given advice to people regarding their personal issues because I thought I could help. Unfortunately, that may not have been the wisest of choices. Now that I’m a little more seasoned I see two big problems with being overly helpful in that type of situation: 1. I am not a trained counselor. While I have the best of intentions and may have experienced a similar situation, I need to leave that type of thing to the experts. 2. By offering support that delves into someone’s personal life, there could be an impression of favoritism towards that particular team member which breaks down the trust relationship between the entire group. We, as leaders, need to get the focus back where it belongs but do it in a supportive manner.
It is silly to expect a leader to ignore the fact that life happens and people need help. In fact, leaders can have a great impact to help a team member, but it should be in line with the established precedents and policies for the group. For example, if someone is struggling in their relationship at home, the leader could help him or her get counseling. The counselor could then deal with the relationship issues, and the leader could support the team member by arranging the time off needed or being more flexible with assignment due dates. The leader is then supporting that particular team member in ways that are appropriate without damaging the rest of the team. In this way, the entire team can get their heads back in the game and re-focus on the work at hand. Now look at this.. I am refocused and feel good about my blog for today! I still have my concerns but I am also getting my work done – it can happen!
– Lori Buresh
CEO, The Professional Development Team