I’m sat with someone I care about and they’re telling me everything is alright. We talk about progress and updates and what’s going on. They’re telling everything is ok. We speak about the challenges they’re facing and still they’re upbeat and positive about what’s going on. Thing is, whether they realise it or not, I know everything isn’t alright. The problem is, we barely know one another. And who wants to share their real pain with a stranger?
It’s a challenge that leaders face every day with their best and brightest. Why should I care? If they’re telling me it’s ok then it’s ok, right? They’re meeting their objectives. That’s one perspective and it’s valid.
Let’s try again.
I arrive at Heathrow. I meet a guy for the first time that introduces himself as European Managing Director. It’s the job I was hired to do and it’s my first day at work. I’m laid flat and I am NOT ok. I then fly ten hours in a separate seat to Los Angeles with the devastating knowledge that we’ve been hired to do the same job. A job I was dreaming about, and my employer has decided it’s a great idea to hedge their bets and double up. I am NOT ok.
We sit in the taxi at LAX. Able to speak for the first time and both behaving very relaxed, almost casually. We’re getting on great, how was the flight? Great. How are you feeling about rocking up at our new office? Great. I am NOT ok. And then I did something unusual. Instead of holding it in and playing the game, instead of taking all that anxiety on the chin and powering through, I turned to my left to face him and I said; I’m probably about to make the biggest mistake I can imagine but… then I tell him everything, including how much I wanted the role and how worried I am feeling.
For the next six months, our paymasters do literally everything they can to turn us on one another. Desperate to see one of us win out, they take every opportunity to encourage us to take the grab for glory. There’s even moments where they’re asking me for the ‘dirt’ on this other man, and in the end, they make it clear there’s only one managing director job, and one of us is going to have to fail. They did the same with him.
What they never knew was that in that taxi we were completely open and honest about our pain. He and I had all the same worries and all the same aspirations and against the odds we made a resolution to face it together. Pure chance or a moment of clarity, I’ll never know.
Making an agreement that was founded in the deepest concerns we had, changed our fate.
That moment of honesty with the one person that had the power to shape my future, and he with me, had created a bond of trust that never broke. Every time there was a challenge we turned into it together, whenever there was a tough day, for one or the other, we were there to pick up the slack. Today we are still very close friends, he’s godfather to my youngest son, and that European subsidiary achieved prodigal performance under our co-leadership. Far, far beyond the wildest dreams of our boss and strangely, much to his disappointment.
Sharing real pain builds real trust.
He and I were as shocked as anyone that it worked out the way it did. The years of post mortem discussion between the two of us has boiled down to that single moment. Where being brutally candid introduced a very powerful element of trust. A genuine moment because the pain was real, a foundation that was real, and strong enough to build a lasting collaboration on. Sharing my real pain, not just the stuff on the surface, was a huge relief for me and instantly reassuring for him.
Are your personal concerns any of my business? NO.
Do you spend 57% of your awake time at work? YES.
The message? Next time you’re sat in that one to one, whether you’re the manager or the employee, share your REAL pain and you never know, you might connect with someone that can change your fate.