I was sitting in the conference room a bit panicked. I’d just been promoted to editor-in-chief of our publication (the first time I had attained such heights), and I was talking with the woman I’d then promoted to managing editor.
“I don’t know about this,” I said in a true moment of fright, many years ago. “There are a ton of things going on, deadlines for different products and projects, things I probably don’t even know about. I hope I’m up for it.”
I was shaken and I was shaky, and I certainly wasn’t in, “I’ve got this” leadership mode. She could have said any number of things at that moment. She could have agreed with me, commiserated on our plight, or even contributed to my doubts by reflecting on the fact that I hadn’t been an editor-in-chief before but, luckily, she didn’t.
“You’ll be fine,” she reassured me. “You are the most organized person I know.”
Now, I promise you I’m not paraphrasing what I think she said, or just reflecting the sentiment, but the last quote is an exact word-for-word statement burned into my brain for eternity. Why? Because I was feeling very uncertain about my abilities at that moment, and her comment was just what the doctor ordered.
I don’t remember what I said back to her (hopefully “thanks”) but I do remember what I thought, and how it changed my whole mood and approach.
“She’s right. I am really organized, and I’ll be able to come up with processes, procedures, deadlines, etc for all this stuff. I’ve got this.”
It may have been the first such experience, but it certainly wasn’t the last. And when I say “experience,” I’m referring to an incident where the so-called “leader” is buoyed by someone they are supposed to be leading.
I cannot tell you how many times this has happed in the last few years with Kate and Nancy. As with just about every aspect of life, there are ups and down in business, there are good times and bad, there are good days and bad. There are times when the leader is rock-solid and on target, and there are times when he’s floundering a bit. There are times when he gets to deliver good news, and times when he’s got to present bad. There are times when he gets to dispenses largess, and there are times when he’s got to ask for belt tightening.
And don’t you ever underestimate how your reaction (as an employee) to such things affects your leader. You can either help that person stay on track with a “We understand and we’re with you,” type of comment, or take him down a notch with “That’s not fair” or “You can’t do this to me,” type of stuff. But remember, unless you’re on your way out the door, you’ve got a lot invested in the leader, and why would anyone want to damage the captain of the ship they’re riding on?
Most of us are leaders and followers. Most of us have a boss and employees, and so most of us should realize that our leaders sometimes need our encouragement and support just as much as those who report up to us. But this is something we must earn with our leadership. We must earn the right to deserve support through our generosity (which can take many forms), through appreciating our folks as people and not just employees.
It’s a two-way street after all. And in many ways, it’s like an extended family, and those are the folks you can always rely on in a crisis. The ones who help you believe, “I got this.”