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I Grieve and I Appreciate

| April 25, 2023

by Annette Beck

[Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Annette Beck, Director of Operational Services and Collegiate IT Director for University College at the University of Iowa.  Annette may be reached at [email protected] or via LinkedIn.]
My father recently passed away after a long struggle with Parkinson’s and COPD. Dying from these diseases can sometimes be a long, painful process to endure…and witness. As I was experiencing this journey, it occurred to me how important it is to lead with empathy. Sure, leading for “work” is important. Work must get done. Perhaps more importantly, is leading for “people.” We spend about 1/3 of our time with colleagues. Many times, these colleagues may not be our closest friends or confidants. Yet, they still care about our well-being. When one of your colleagues is experiencing hurt, it likely impacts them in different ways. Maybe they aren’t as effective, maybe they seem aloof some days, maybe they retreat in a world of their own, or maybe…you don’t see an outward change at all.
Leading “for” people means that you understand that your team has a life outside of work that may impact them at any time. This is where empathy kicks in for a good leader. Recognizing that it is almost impossible to personally be 100% ALL the time matters. Even your strongest performers at work have personal lives. During my father’s journey, I felt myself and my emotions changing from day to day. I felt sadness for him, for me, but I was also anticipating relief for him when he passed. It was important that I allowed myself to “feel.” My colleagues allowed me to do this. They knew I was struggling some days and allowed me to “not be perfect” every day. Good team leaders recognize and allow this. Many of us expect to be “perfect” in the workplace, we want to be a good team player or a good leader ourselves. But…it is ok to pause and not be a superhuman. Those who allow this for both their team members and themselves are the best leaders.

Here are my own personal suggestions, and a couple additional articles for more ideas from and HBR.

  1. Employee – SHARE: share that you are going through a difficult time. It doesn’t mean you have to share all the details or any details at all, it just means you are allowing your colleagues to know that you are struggling and may need some understanding at this time.
  2. Employee – SEEK: seek out trusted family members or friends and share more deeply what you are feeling. You could also reach out to a counselor, religious leader, or some other support service.
  3. Employee – TIME: take time off if you need it. You don’t have to muddle through the day trying to just make it until the end of the day.
  4. Leader – SPEAK: have compassion. Understand that the slightest little show of understanding, whether it is a quick text, phone call, or short note…matters.
  5. Leader – REROUTE: try to reroute work, if needed, to other employees to give your team member time to adjust to their struggle. Be reasonable, of course, and it may not even be needed, but care enough to think about it.
  6. Leader – SHOW: show others that you care in a time of a team members’ need shows that you will be there for others if they need it. Leaders are also human.

Finally, I make it a practice to never say “I know how you feel” because each person’s journey is just that, their journey. Instead, you can say things like “I understand how you must be feeling” or “please feel free to share how you are feeling” or “please let me know if there is anything I can do to make your journey easier.”

Thank you to my University of Iowa colleagues for having empathy and leading during my recent struggles. I appreciate!
.  . .  annette 


This Week’s Survey

What’s something you could today this week for a colleague that may be going through a tough time?

  • Reach out.

  • Do something small that could make a big difference.

  • Make yourself available.

  • Something else.
  • From Last Week
    Last week we asked which resonated most for driving your ongoing professional development:

  • 21% said being aggressively biased towards action.

  • 14% said keeping a journal of useful insights.

  • 13% said finding resources to further your development.

  • 12% said identifying a leadership skill to focus on and incorporate that into your password/passphrase.

  • 12% said considering who in your field you admire for their exemplary leadership skills.

  • 11% said setting aside time to develop a leadership skill inventory.  

  • 9% said turning off any non-essential notifications on your phone.  

  • 8% said getting involved.

  • There are so many worthwhile ways to invest in our professional growth and development, each of the ideas from last week resonated with a good portion of our readers.  Regardless of what action you choose, the key, as 21% of us identified, is being biased toward action.  This is true whether it is professional development or showing empathy toward others.