The man called me and was completely devastated. He works for a large company and is one of the key people in the corporation’s IT department.

His story is not unusual. He told me how he had been hit with a double whammy. Six months ago, him and his wife received news that their only child, a little baby girl, 6 months old, had developed an illness that most likely would lead to her death.

Naturally this rocked their whole world. Both of them literally collapsed. He told me how he dove into work. The one area where he felt that he had competence and control in the midst of this chaos. Not long after this sad news, there was another blow. His wife decided to leave him. Unfortunately, something that happens as a result of stressors and crises.

When he was at work he had an uncomfortable feeling that people were talking about him, but not to him. They did not know how to handle a co-worker in the middle of a huge personal crises.

His boss was fully aware of his personal tragedy but did not address the issue with him. There was absolutely nothing to complain about regarding his performance and productivity at work. The culture at the company was that people should not bring their personal problems with them to work. That was considered unprofessional.

When the man talked to me he had stopped going to work. He could not handle the silence and the tip-toeing around him.

Why am I telling you this story? I want to poke a hole on the myth that it would be unprofessional to mix work and personal life. In fact, no person is designed with a compartmentalized brain like that. Whether we like it or not, the person we are going to work is the person we are before we leave the house.

When I heard the story, I was puzzled. How can a large corporation have someone in upper management who responds to an employee’s personal crises by avoidance?
I decided to ask for permission to step in. We arranged a meeting with the man and his manager.

Since I led the meeting, I decided to talk about crises in general and how the boss felt about it. It became obvious that he was very uncomfortable around anything dealing with emotions and feelings. The more he talked about the importance of being professional, the more I realized how unprofessional he was. His fear of stress and crisis reaction in the workplaces was the issue at hand. Leadership by fear has never and will never be effective.

The key to this situation had very little to do with the IT-guy. It had to do with the lack of crisis competence in the leadership. A manager is not a therapist, but a manager needs to know how to lead and relate to employees who are dealing with issues that are affecting them at work, whether those issues are personal or professional has no importance whatsoever.

It was wonderful to assist this manager to pull his head out of the sand and mentor him away from his fear and avoidance. It took five sessions.

The IT guy is back at work and believe it or not – his boss is now his greatest supporter a work. It’s not that hard to pull the head out of the sand, sometimes we just need to be told to do so!

Have a brilliant day!

Ulf Lidman

Head in sand – not a leadership position!