Leaders get hurt feelings too!
We were in the car, traveling between appointments and Anne was on her phone. She was wearing a headset so I could only hear her side of the conversation, but I could imagine the other side - so I will fill it in for you.
" ... thank you for taking time to speak with me. I have a specific agenda this morning.
"Here's the background. I was speaking with Diane Thomas yesterday and she let me know that she had not been invited to be part of the upcoming speaker series. She noted that other Past Presidents, some who had served before her and some after, were on the roster, but she was not.
"I know you intend to include her; is there some reason she hasn't been contacted?"
As Anne listened to the answer, I could imagine that Tonya (the woman on the other end) was explaining that she was sure Diane was exhausted having just completed her term at the Global level, and she didn't want to impose by asking for one more thing.
Anne continued, "Yes, I understand how you might think that way. And that is the folly of the Golden Rule. You think that's how you would like to be treated and so you are treating Diane the same way.
"Here's the thing. Diane is suffering from what I will call "Post Board-term Recovery Syndrome;" that is the silence resulting from others not wanting to impose further. No one calls, no one writes, no one asks for your help or your advice. I have experienced it myself and it is very discouraging.
"Having undertaken several significant initiatives during my own term, I was stunned by the silence. It felt like "When you are done, we have no further use for you." There was no continuity, decisions were made without my input which was a shame because my knowledge would have been helpful.
"My feelings were hurt. And it sent me down the rabbit hole wondering if I had offended everyone somehow.
"Diane told me her feelings are hurt too, and she was wondering if people were just glad to get rid of her.
"You and I both know she didn't offend anyone, we are all very proud of her, we respect and appreciate her contributions and admire her for her masterful leadership of the Global Board.
"Would you have time to give her a call today? And get her on the roster?"
I can imagine that Tonya was taken aback. She believed that she was doing the "right thing" and here she was learning that her actions (or lack of) had a devastating and unintended impact on a woman she very much admired. She was expressing her dismay and asking Anne how to handle the call.
"Well, if I was making the call, I would start with an apology for not contacting her sooner. I would acknowledge that you had spoken to me and you now understand that you were mistaken in thinking she would want to be left alone. I would tell her I was sorry if I had hurt her feelings - I had not meant to leave her out, I was just giving her time to recover. "Then I would offer her the choice of at least two speaking dates.
"Once a date was set, I would ask Diane how she would like to be involved in the organization - or not - and offer to help make that happen. One thought I had was to ask her to be an advisor to the new committee ..."
As you can see, Anne intervened in a situation where good intentions had resulted in unintended consequences. Diane, the former leader of the Board, had her feelings hurt - something that neither Anne nor Tonya would have ever wanted.
Rather than making assumptions about how people want to be treated (the Golden Rule), it would be better all-around if we asked them. We ask whether you prefer your coffee with cream, sugar, milk, or black - whether you prefer your martini with an olive or a twist - we don't assume that others will even want coffee never mind how they prefer to have it prepared.
There are several messages here.
First of all, we are all doing our best to get along in this world. Let's avoid hurting one another unintentionally by asking people how they would like to be treated, instead of deciding for them.
Secondly, let's not miss an opportunity to tell people we admire and appreciate them.
Thirdly, let's intervene when we observe unintended consequences; give the person the benefit of the doubt and create an opportunity for them to make a graceful recovery.
Until next time!