Monday Morning Momentum™
Twenty-five years ago, one late night, my girlfriend said, “You don’t understand.”
“I do,” I said.
“You can’t,” she said. “Everything’s been perfect in your life.”
“That’s not true.”
But, she wasn’t listening. We had been discussing how upset she was about something that happened to her that day, and how it had reminded her of the many challenges she had faced early in her life.
I looked at her, and said quietly, “I’m sorry. I really am.”
She brushed me aside.
“You just don’t understand. You can’t.”
She was shutting me out.
And in a burst of emotion, everything came pouring out of me: my disappointments, my heartbreaks, my losses. I shared everything. I let her know that she was wrong. She listened until I was done.
“I didn’t know that,” she said. “I’m sorry I upset you.”
She smiled faintly. “But, I’m glad to know you’re human.”
I learned something that night. We often assume that life is a fairy tale for many of the people we think are successful; they must not suffer our problems. They must have it all, and their life is without worry. But, when we step back for a moment, we know that’s not true.
When the curtains are pulled back on our lives, our
challenges and vulnerabilities are revealed.
Some of our lives have been harder than others – even tragic – but we’ve
all had our struggles. The question for
leaders is – and I count parents in this category – are we more or less
effective when we pull back our own curtains?
Do people commit, support, and believe in us because we’re perfect, or
because we’re human? My old girlfriend’s
answer, and the response of everyone I have met since, is that people
ultimately want someone they can relate to – someone they can understand, and someone
who understands them.
Bill George, the former chairman and CEO of Medtronic, a company whose market capitalization grew 35% annually under his leadership, advocates for openness. In his book, True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership, George frames the question this way: “One fear all of us have to confront is whether others will accept us if we show our vulnerability. We fear being rejected if we admit our mistakes. Will others take advantage of our weaknesses? Will they think less of us?”
When I think back to the time I was growing up in Milwaukee,
The point is clearly not to dwell on our challenges, but to
pretend they do not exist is a mistake.
“The great balance of leadership is to have fervor over what you
believe,” said Carley Roney, The Knot co-founder, in Secrets of Greatness, a book by the editors of Fortune Magazine,
“but not be afraid to admit when you are totally wrong.”
Later in his book, Bill George comes back to answering his
own questions, “When leaders reveal their vulnerabilities, they develop
trusting human connections with others that motivate and empower those they
I have tried to follow this advice in my own work. While my life as a writer, speaker, and
seminar leader is dedicated to helping people “Enjoy every day. Do what they love. Make a difference.” I’ve had my own challenges. And
although I am best known for “The Law of the Garbage Truck,"
on a given day, someone can still set me back on my heels.
I’ve realized that people want to know that my advice is
reliable, research-based, and field-tested.
But they also want to know that I’ve had my struggles. I’ve made mistakes in my career and at home. My thoughts are not always positive, and
certain things make me worry. Sometimes
I procrastinate when I should be focused.
And sometimes I eat too much and exercise too little. I’m a work in progress. We all are.
Our relationships at home and in business thrive when we
don’t hide behind our curtains. There
are times when we must let people know we’ve made mistakes, been disappointed,
and need help. In Faust: Part I, Goethe wrote, “What is uttered from the heart alone
/ will win the hearts of others to your own.”
There is power in pulling back your curtain
Copyright 2009 David J. Pollay
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David J. Pollay is the creator of The Law of the Garbage Truck™. He is a syndicated columnist with the North Star Writers Group, creator and host of The Happiness Answer™ television program, and an internationally sought after speaker. David’s book, Beware of Garbage Trucks!™, is due out this summer.
David is the founder and president of the consulting and seminar organization, The Momentum Project. He is also a founding associate executive director of the International Positive Psychology Association (IPPA). If you want to reprint one of David’s columns, email email@example.com. Here’s David’s full bio.