by Michael Holland    

As a leader, you may ultimately be faced with a situation that you never would have believed could happen.  A leader is charged with so much responsibility and often has little training or wisdom to deal with the challenges that life can bring.  The list below contains real situations I, or leaders I know, have faced.

  • An employee with a terminal diagnosis.
  • An employee showing visible signs of physical abuse.
  • An employee informing you that his local family has just found out that he fathered 2 kids in a foreign country, whose mother now wants to bring those kids to the US.
  • A peer manager committing suicide.
  • An employee alerting you to the fact that her deranged and abusive husband is coming to the office with a weapon in a jealous rage over a perceived interoffice relationship.
  • A boss announcing a pending marriage to their same sex partner.
  • An employee losing a child to illness, a car accident, or suicide.
  • An employee borrowing against his retirement account to send his teenager to an extremely expensive, specialized rehab center in an effort to save his child’s life.
  • An employee losing her home to foreclosure.

Sometimes as leaders we know our employees on a deep level and what’s happening in their life and the lives of those around them, but more often we only know what’s going on at the surface.  And while policies, regulations, laws, protocol, leadership books, and management training are all well and good in educating and guiding us on what’s supposed to occur in a given situation, at some point as a leader you will be faced with a situation that will challenge every fiber of your emotional well-being.

You can’t be fully prepared for all situations, but you can seed some behaviors that may help you provide comfort and support to an employee or a peer or a boss.  Use the situations in the list above to act out the ensuing conversations and visualize your actions/behaviors/mannerisms, allowing you to “see it before you do it.”  Gain insight regarding how your emotions may overwhelm you and which situations may be more difficult due to you own life experiences.

Coaching Thoughts – For You and Your Peers

  • With a peer leader, pick one of the situations in the list and together talk through ways a leader could lead well in that situation.
  • When else might “see it before you do it” be helpful as a leader?
  • What has been the toughest situation you’ve encountered as a leader thus far in your career?  Would you handle it differently today? If so, in what ways?