In working through my Connected Leadership Journal, I came across a question that I initially skipped over. As a detail-oriented person, however (which sounds better than perfectionist), I eventually went back to the question that stumped me:
“If you had the opportunity to change one leadership decision that you have made in your career, what would it be and why?”
Upon further reflection, I found that I knew the answer, I just didn’t want to write it down. The answer lies in a situation that’s been haunting me for years. You see, several years ago, while serving as an HR manager, I received frequent complaints from employees about a senior executive’s aggressive style. One employee went so far as to use the words that all HR professionals never want to hear: a hostile work environment.
I approached the executive, laid out my concerns, and provided a solution that he could use. It was simply: to listen more instead of talking so much in meetings. I had a good relationship with him, so I pointedly suggested that he “Ask a question, then shut up.” He was open to the idea and agreed to give it a try.
Unfortunately, he tried it at the next meeting, when I happened to not be in attendance. He asked people in the meeting if he talked too much and, in true fashion of those who feel they are being bullied or fearful of losing their jobs, they all said no. I wasn’t there to mediate the conversation, so he felt his job was done – he had done his part, and determined he didn’t need to change.
What would you have done next?
I can tell you I’m not proud of my choice: I gave up. I felt that because my first attempt had failed, I didn’t have the fortitude to coach this aggressive executive and create a more positive work environment. I eventually left the organization for this very reason.
What I did next, however, was intentional and powerful. I poured myself into learning how to coach more effectively, eventually earning a certification in coaching and an ICF credential (my ACC). I read articles and books (see picture connected to this blog) about leadership and communication and workplace culture. I practiced my new craft in countless situations. I am now comfortable talking with individuals in nearly every situation without taking their responses personally. (If you’d like to explore this shift for yourself, I recommend starting with the book “The Four Agreements.”)
The decision I’d change if I could go back in time is to combine my intentional learning with the workplace environment. I would decide to try again instead of giving up. I would decide to be transparent (ironically, one of that company’s corporate values that I helped write) and respectful and fully embrace my unique position as an HR leader that he respected to make a powerful impact on the company. I would decide to learn and apply, learn and apply, learn and apply – instead of avoiding the situation all together by leaving.
I’m happy with where I am now, and I do believe that everything happens for a reason, and life is what we make it. Nonetheless, I can’t deny that my learning might have been even more profound and impactful had I “stuck it out” and applied what I was learning in that environment, even if only for a short while. It would have been difficult, and hard, and time-consuming… but then again, the best things in life usually are.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. What leadership decision would you change if you could? How could it have impacted your life? How can you use this reflection to make better decisions moving forward?
(If you prefer to chat, set up a free 30-minute session with me. I look forward to talking with you!)