When you agree to take on a leadership role, you are agreeing to deal with the hard stuff. Most of us realize that. The part we tend to miss is that we don’t have to deal with the hard stuff alone. Sure, we tell our people that they shouldn’t carry the burden by themselves, and yet, when they see us doing just that they are more likely to mirror our actions rather than our words. What about your credibility, the respect that others have for you, especially those who hold you up as a role model? I’d be willing to bet that they would prefer to follow a real live person, warts and all, than some artificial picture of leadership perfection.
Looking to others for support doesn’t necessarily mean baring your troubled soul to those who report to you (although, that may be appropriate in some situations), but it does mean that you need to build a network of friends/family/colleagues with whom you can be vulnerable – before you need to lean on them. Peers who understand the complexity of what you are dealing with, who can provide fact-based encouragement or call you on your stuff, whichever is warranted at the moment. People with whom you can dump your load, sort out the stuff that isn’t helpful, then pick up the rest and forge ahead. I hope one or two faces are coming to mind for you as you read this. Sometimes, a specific situation brings such allies to the surface, but more often than not your active cultivation now makes reaching out when you need to much easier.
At the risk of sounding like I am contradicting myself, if a trusted advisor is not readily available at a critical crossroad, try voicing your concerns out loud and consider how you would advise a colleague in a similar situation. Difficult situations tend to grow when they are rattling around in your head, and it becomes much easier to “catastrophize” the possible outcomes. Giving voice to the dilemma before you, or writing it down, is a bit like letting the air out of the situation. It becomes more concrete, less driven by emotion, and the risks or fears tend to be brought down to size. I’m not suggesting they will disappear — some decisions or actions carry a level of risk even when considered in the most level-headed of ways. It is still advisable to run your conclusions past a trusted colleague before acting, but serving as your own sounding board can work in a pinch.
When you are a leader, you will encounter difficult situations. The real question is . . . do you have the confidence to seek out the wisdom of others, and ask for help with the hard stuff?