Now is the time to lead with humanity

—When business leaders are honest and open about having tough days in a tough time, they empower employees to absorb their own challenges, get better and move forward, says Trent Thompson—

A couple of weeks ago, I wasn’t feeling great—mentally, I mean—and wrote a post about it on LinkedIn.

Clearly it struck a chord, because it’s now been viewed by more than 37,000 people. More than 800 people have reacted to it, and dozens have commented. Some have even re-shared it, with messages like “Preach” and “Word to my people.”

I wrote it because I was cranky, frustrated and dissatisfied.

I was restless, irritated and, as I finally realized, sad.

I missed friends, family, colleagues and my team. I missed the bustle of the agency. I missed going out for dinner, drinks, or coffee.

But none of that is special.

We’re all missing those things as we sit here, in week seven of however many, working from home. There is nothing special about how I was feeling.

So, what was it about this post? I think it was simply that I, an agency leader, shared it.

I have a team that looks to me, and colleagues and bosses, to impress. The instinct is to appear unflappable. To show strength, decisiveness and resiliency in difficult times, so that those who see it feel inspired to do the same. Leaders are supposed to be superheroes.

But I’m not a superhero. I’m a leader, yes, but I’m human and I showed it. And when I shared my feelings, something amazing happened: I got feelings back.

“Thank you for sharing your humanity.”

“I’m so glad to have read this today.”

“Here if you need it.”

“You’ve summed up what many of us are feeling.”

“Thank you for sharing the most honest update I’ve read in a while.”

My post connected with people because I was honest. Because I shared my humanity. And because I presented a universal truth.

This is what all of us working in this industry try to do every single day. We strive to connect with people, to get a reaction or drive an action for the brands we work on.

However, the one “brand” we as leaders often lose sight of is our own. We can’t do that.

We need to show our humanity. Now, more than ever.

We need to shift from leader to human and show the people who look up to us—and those we look up to—that we’re not unflappable. Strong, yes. But not unflappable.

It’s how we’ll stay grounded. It’s how we’ll stay sane. And it’s a skill we must practise day in and day out, no matter how hectic those days may get.

When our teams see our human side, they can relate to us. Seeing our humanity gives them permission to show theirs. Seeing that the pressure can even get to us means they don’t feel bad about letting it get to them.

But most importantly, and this is invaluable, seeing us pick ourselves up, regroup and move on, empowers our teams to do the same. They learn, grow, get better and become more confident. And that’s our only job as leaders and as humans—to make those around us better.

So, like I said last week: I’m tired. And that’s ok.

Hang in there. I’ll do the same.

And tomorrow will be better.

Trent Thompson is a creative director at No Fixed Address in Toronto.