Who’s Borrowing Your Strength?

Think of the person on your team whose actions or inactions are garnering them negative publicity. You know the person—the one your colleagues and leadership team keeps worrying and complaining about.

In your mind, you hear yourself thinking—

“If they’d just be quiet long enough they’d get the answer they’re looking for.”

“Don’t they know they should take ownership of their own career, make a plan for growth that helps the team while bolstering their career?”

“Why are they trying so hard… to be liked, appreciated, respected… to fit in?”

“Don’t they understand that those behaviors get in the way of their progress here?”

“Don’t file that complaint just yet,” you think, “Try setting some boundaries first.”

“Why don’t they know social graces?” you ask yourself, as you watch them struggle to fit in.

Recognizing the time and energy it would take to offer feedback and guidance, you tell yourself, “This person is not my job and I don’t have time anyway. They’ll get it when they get it.”

These were the exact words running through Ellen’s mind as she watched Jessica, a highly valued and brand-new team member struggle to find her fit. Continually interrupting her boss with the answer to a question that wasn’t even directed to her, she complained about not being heard.

Asked to help Jessica out, Ellen, a well-seasoned executive, first sought to develop a connection through their mutual love of cats. She watched her interactions with colleagues and saw reasons she may be struggling to connect.

Within a couple of weeks, Jessica came to Ellen for some advice, which turned into a 90-minute mentoring session that began with a flood of tears.

Once the emotions passed, they got into the details of her struggle, and Ellen helped Jessica see her struggle as normal (“It takes time to find your footing when you’re new to the workforce”). They were also able to identify some simple steps she could take immediately to shift her experience and reputation at work.

After their second meeting, Ellen mentioned her concern about Jessica’s progress—“The first time we met, she said, ‘It’s an old boys club here, and I feel like I have to fit in or else I won’t get included. I feel like I pester my boss, and asking for support shows weakness.’”

“During our second meeting,” Ellen continued, “When I asked if she was okay with presenting her ideas to her boss, she said, ‘Oh, yeah, no problem.’”

Was she lying to me in our first meeting, or now?” Ellen asked.

“Neither,” I responded, “she’s standing on the shoulder of a giant—you! She’s borrowing from your experience and wisdom. She’s trusting in your guidance.”

What if coaching and mentoring could be this simple? What if we could simply hold the space for others to share their humanity, while admitting to our own, and offering the lessons we’ve learned along the way, with complete trust in the process?

In other words, share without expectations—on timing or the process used to integrate the wisdom offered.

Here’s to your greatness,

Misti Burmeister

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