When Leaders Don’t Feel Strong


September 21, 2013

I had a scare yesterday when one of my kids was hurt in a sports accident.  It was serious enough that I stopped in my tracks, advised my team of the situation, and sped to take care of my son.  As I was driving to him, not knowing exactly how badly he was hurt, my mind was racing. My internal dialog was jumping from telling myself to remain calm and think positive thoughts to just trying to focus on getting to him quickly and in one piece.

Sure, I was scared, but I know it’s important to try to be strong in situations that are unexpected so that I can make the best decisions possible.  When I first saw him, all I wanted to do was cry and fall apart.  But, I held it in and gave him reassurance that he would be fine and that this situation was not as bad as it appeared.  Several hours later he was taken care of and on the road to recovery.

I spent most of the night awake, worried about him and it gave me time to reflect on the entire situation and how I wanted to react vs. how I reacted.  It was a choice.  It also made me aware that leaders go through these moments all the time, myself included.  The misconception is that all leaders are strong.  The truth is that leaders have moments of weakness and doubt like everyone else, they just dig deep and find a way to step up to the risk or challenge and set the tone to keep everyone else calm and on target.

So today, if you reflect on leaders you have admired in your career, I think you’ll see that they were not always strong.  They had moments of doubt and times where there was not a clear path to follow.  The were able to overcome those fears though and be someone other people could look to for guidance and stability.

If you’re a leader, whether at work, in your home, in your community, give yourself a little break.  Even the toughest leaders have moments of fear.  It’s what you do with those that make the difference.


  • Good post Trish, and I’m glad he’s doing better. I have had more than my share of moments when my hockey player son was laying still on the ice after a big hit…and as a coach for his team I needed to stay calm so the other players would not get too upset. The same holds true at work. Issues are going to come up, but how we conduct ourselves in the most challenging of times are when we have the greatest opportunity to lead.

  • Trish, good leaders also know how to prioritize their thoughts and actions. This is a perfect example of how those built-in predetermined priorities make decision making easy. I’m not sure I would call it a moment of weakness when it is a matter of doing the right thing. Both your son and your team should be proud to have someone in their lives who knows the right thing to do, acts on it and can be relied upon to be dependable. Good job!

  • First, I’m glad to hear your son is okay and recovering.

    I’m also glad to hear that as a leader you’ve developed a team that is capable of supporting you when you need a little extra, and that you’re okay with saying “my family is important to me and I need to take care of this.” I’m guessing here, but if one of your team had a similar emergency, you’d help lead the team in the same effort to quickly cover for the team member while s/he took care of a child.

    We hear so much, especially in the cube-dwelling, minion world, about being teammates and all pitching in together. But so often it’s just talk and when an emergency happens, leadership gets amnesia or simply doesn’t communicate at all. The person in charge is Superman and is expected to always be there; the team is supposed to follow their leader and therefore must also come up with a super-human way to deal with life.

    Work/life balance is overrated. It’s all life and the way we deal with each other in our moments of need and weakness speaks more about our organizations and management styles than any mission statement or glossy brochure.

  • Hey Trish–Family first! Glad to hear your son will be fine.

    Your story reminds me of that saying….”Be like a duck. Stay calm on the surface But paddle like hell underneath”. That is so important during times of chaos.

    Look forward to the next post!…Ben

  • Any leader is human, and therefore nothing human is alien to them, including weakness. You can allow yourself a moment of weakness, but the way you deal with it may define you in the eyes of your employees and you’ll become either respected or doubted as deserving the position. If you get a grip on yourself and clench your teeth in order to sort out the situation, you‘ll definitely be one of those respected leaders, and not doubted or feared.

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About Trish

A former HR executive and HCM product leader with over 20 years of experience.


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