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Leadership is Holding Space for your Team Members

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I once worked for a senior executive in an organization. Sam was totally unassuming, a perfect example of servant leadership.

He was brilliant at what he does and deeply respected by both clients and staff. Sam was one of those people who you would meet and not realize he was an executive leader in his organization unless you were told.

Everyone wanted to see him — not because of his job title but because of his brilliance and listening hear. You would want to have a piece of him.

There was no air about him and even in the office, you would hardly notice him except for the fact that he had his own separate office. That was different, but even at that, his door was always open.

On one of those days, I was having a rough time. A very rough time. I had been battling both professional and personal challenges, some of which he knew about.

But on that day, I was done.

I went to his office and as I sat down and looked at him, he knew something unusual was wrong. I opened my mouth to speak but the only thing I did was to cry.

I pretty much wept.

In a flash, he rushed to the door and locked it. He obviously didn’t want others to see what was going on.

As I cried and struggled to put words to my heartache, all he did was stay quiet. He literally stayed still.

He held space for me.

Eventually, I calmed down, and I poured my heart out – what I understood, my challenges, my frustrations, my confusion with everything and how I was feeling.

I was in a vulnerable state. I didn’t choose it but I caved in.

I needed it.

Yet, I felt very safe, accepted and understood.

When I was done, he spoke and shared his story.

He was hardly prescriptive — he also went vulnerable and opened up about himself to me.

Today, I don’t even remember everything that he said, but I very much remember how I felt.

I felt relieved, accepted, understood and my burden was lifted.

Even though it was a moment of pain for me, the fact that I felt heard left me with pleasant memories and that is what I am sharing today.

It’s a hard lesson in leadership.

Leaders have their personal struggles too, yet they must keep their gaze on the bottom line and still be there emotionally for their team.

Not as counselors but as listeners and safe space creators.

Personally, I know it is not easy, but as leaders, it is our calling.

We need to push through beyond our own frailties and personal challenges to hold space for the ones who look up to us.

Yes, I am talking about the work environment.

PS: Remember to register for The Thrive Conference 2021

Written by Dapo Bankole.
Follow Dapo on LinkedIn

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