Leaders: Don’t Take Yourself so Seriously

Leaders take themselves too seriously.

I unexpectedly ran into another CXO the other night at a social setting. A very casual setting of old college friends getting together in a wintry cabin. Sweats and active wear welcome. Dogs and kids running around freely.

He was so serious. Very executive like. Almost like we were in a board room.

I then realized that part of my climb up the executive ranks was an unspoken rite of passage. Be more serious. Less fun. Become less human.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t take your work seriously. Conversely, I’m saying you shouldn’t take yourself so seriously.

The corporate culture of Lean In means we lean out of everything else.

Case in point; I was recently having a lunch with a well-respected colleague. We were catching up after his recent exit from a successful acquisition. A transaction that afforded him a graceful exit to semi-retirement.

The comment that stuck with me; “I have a lot of years to pay back to my family.”

Why is this the accepted price we pay for success?

Instead of leaning in, we need to start having real and truthful conversations. Conversations about what we’ve sacrificed to get to the c-level. The big payout. The corner office. Truthful conversations about two things:
  • What we have sacrificed thus far
  • What we learned and how we do it differently now

In my last blog post, my learning culminated in a declaration: “I won’t put the company before everything else.”

What I am challenged with now is the continued perception that you should be on 24/7 to be successful.

First in the office, last one out. Pay your dues. That is so 1990s Glengarry Glen Rossesque.

 It’s time for leaders to start being honest on how to have balance. To walk the talk.

My most productive and creative times are not at the office. But rather in secluded and focused spaces. Starbucks. My back deck. Outside on a bench. In my home office. On an airplane. On the drive to Yosemite National Park (no joke).

How many of you hide away in conference rooms to get work done to avoid interruptions?

This is ludicrous!

Management by interruption is when someone else’s perceived priority costs you at least 10 minutes of productivity every time you are interrupted.

Flow. Interrupted.

You can cut out management by interruption by committing to at least two 1:1s with your employees a week. HT to Bruce Tulgan and his book, It’s Okay to Be the Boss.

One of my favorite leaders when I was in the Fortune 100 world used emoticons. In email. Constantly.

Little smiley faces.

I was so confused at first. This was seemingly unprofessional. Yet, he was one of the best virtual team builders and worldwide leaders we had. He was an effective leader and he delivered results.

Every time I saw that smiley emoticon I could hear him laugh and see his smile. The way he did in meetings, putting everyone at ease.

His emoticons made his communications smile. Made it more human.

He taught me not to take myself so seriously.

So why are CXOs so serious? Why have we taken the human out of our leadership?

Human is vulnerable.

A reference to the hour I stole away with my husband for lunch. A brief mention about coaching my daughter’s basketball team. A smile after calling out someone in a meeting for multi-tasking. A mid-afternoon walk to Starbucks with a team of 15 when you realize the meeting is going to run late. Really late. An unexpected high five after reviewing killer creative from the most junior person on the team.

It’s not a sign of weakness.

Time to put the human back into leadership.


wbwb71 said…
Great post. I enjoy your writing, Tia. Keep it up! - Will B
tianewcomer said…
Thank you for the encouragement, Will. Will keep shipping!