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  • Writer's pictureJim Donaher

Hiding in Plain Sight or What Happens When You DON'T Assume...

Many years ago, one of my bosses, Betsy, told me something that turned out to be real wisdom. I knew it at the time, as the example she was referencing was clear, but I didn't realize that it was generally applicable.

The situation involved an employee, a single mom, who was struggling with child care and being to work on time, and being at work at all and so on. She was a great employee, and was always open and honest about her situation, and I, in turn, extended a lot of flexibility to her to handle what seemed to me to be a very heavy load. I always felt that I was doing the right thing, and that I was not being 'played' and that I was just enabling a great employee to continue being great, by flexing as much as I could.

Betsy, who was wise and older than me by quite a bit, liked to impart wisdom. She had a lot of it, and she liked to let you know that you didn't. That was okay, as she was right. She rightly pointed out that another employee on my team, equally outstanding in her work performance, was also a single mom, and who I never knew to ask for anything, in terms of flexibility or what Betsy called 'special favors.' I knew this, because I knew the people involved, and was simply doing what I believed each employee needed to function at their best. Since the other asked for nothing special, she got nothing special.

Betsy pointed out to me that there was a balance to strike. I was reasonably well-liked and had good relationships with my team and its members, but not so much that anyone would point out this 'unfair' treatment to me, because it didn't affect them, and they wouldn't want to cause problems for the other person, who was getting my flexibility simply because she asked for it.

Betsy took her job as a leader seriously. She was not interested in being adored by her team, which she wasn't, but she approached her work seriously and conscientiously, developing her managers actively, challenging their thinking consistently, rewarding their successes and doing effective post postmortems on their failures. This issue, as it was heading off a potential failure, fell somewhere in between.

Beyond the people management application of this advice, which has aided me, and many of the leaders I have since mentored, it also extends to dealing with people in any aspect of life. For every vocal person who shares their issues with whomever will listen, and is comfortable asking for help, there are others who quietly toil in what can be described as 'quiet desperation.' They neither share their problems nor ask for help, and because of their ability to convey a strong, confident, even stoic attitude, no one thinks they need to ask them if they need help.

I have news, and it's important. Confident people, self-assured people, rich people, even arrogant people - have problems too. They have anxieties. They have jealousies and envies and conceits and disdains and bitterness and judgments of others. They are no less susceptible to pain, worry, fear or hopelessness than anyone else.

Everyone has their own unique collection of challenges. And sometimes they are overwhelmed by what is on their plates while at other times, they manage quite well. They act out in different ways, or they don't act out at all.

The thing is, these folks may hold the key, or at least a key, to fixing problems around them. But they are too proud to ask for help on their own stuff, to let others know that they DON'T have it all together, and that they are at a loss. This is common, so don't judge them (In fact don't judge anyone, by the way, it's not why we're here.)

I guess my bottom line point to all this is, don't assume that the ones who seem to have it all figured out actually do. Sometimes they have the most messed up situations, and they live in mortal fear of being found out.

What you unlock in acknowledging the pain of others is sometimes a game-changer for all involved. Don't wait for people to ask you for help with their problem. You may miss an important opportunity.

God bless you!

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