One is the Loneliest Number

This song lyric makes me wonder if its writer, Harry Nilsson*, used to spend time with leaders. His bio doesn’t really suggest that, but his sentiment describes so aptly how leaders often feel.

I started thinking about this as I was reading evaluations from a recent leadership program I taught. One executive wrote: “I most enjoyed sharing stories because I learned that I am not alone.”  Though his sentiment is common, it struck me. Leaders face so many challenges daily and many of them legitimately require confidentiality. So many others could be shared, and aren’t.

I know I can be guilty of keeping my obstacles and challenges to myself. So, what gives?

“It’s not the load that breaks you down. It’s the way you carry it.” – Lou Holtz

There are many reasons why we might not ask for help in the workplace: fear of rejection, fear of looking stupid, fear of being vulnerable. What I’m talking about here, though, is a step removed from needing help; a pre-cursor, if you will. Often, the help we need is simply to talk about something – to hear what it sounds like outside our own crowded minds, to hear how others think about it, to see their reactions.

We tend to turn things over and over in our own heads. It’s like perpetually being in clothes dryer: all that tossing changes the clothes around, but ultimately, the contents stay the same. At some point the door needs to be opened to have something get taken out or added in.

What’s your approach to mixing up the load?

“Everything becomes a little different as soon as it is spoken out loud.” – Hermann Hesse

Truly, things sound different when we say them out loud than when we say them to ourselves. When we’re stuck on something, the simplest, shortest conversations can often be the antidote:

  • New ideas get added in
  • Details shift in significance, either up or down
  • Questions make us consider new possibilities
  • We simply hear it differently

Perhaps best of all, there is often tremendous validation (remember the participant feedback at the top of this blog?). We may get the sense that others have experienced this challenge and can empathize with us. Or, we may learn that we’re right on track with the way we’re thinking about it already.

So: name something that’s bugging you. Think of someone you trust on this issue. Go get talking.

*Three Dog Night made the song famous, but didn’t actually write it.

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