The Biggest Mistake A Boss Can Make & The Lesson I Learned The Hard Way

“Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage and strength." - Brene Brown

We're all so multifaceted, juggling work, family, romance, etc. We do our best to keep all the balls in the air, and prevent a challenge in one area from affecting the others. But what if the key to success is not in compartmentalizing, but rather in embracing all the facets that make us a whole human, and sharing that person with the people in our lives?

Five years ago, I left my career on the fast track in luxury fashion to take over my family's 30 year old business, Nick Felicione Pest Control. The take over was challenging, as is the case with any change in leadership, but by the end of my first year we were celebrating double digit sales increases and the trust became contagious. I felt such a high- no other accomplishment had validated my capabilities in this way. But the high was short lived as I came face to face with an unexpected divorce.

Like anyone experiencing divorce, I was on a roller coaster of emotions, but in order to maintain the momentum we had worked so hard to build (and to feel some sense of control over my life), I occupied myself with work.  I did a decent job of staying busy, and a terrible job of being effective. I was impossible to impress and rarely motivated or celebrated with my team. Actually, I rarely engaged with them at all outside of a meeting.  Performing routine tasks took me twice as long. I couldn’t even finish reading an email without getting distracted by a paralyzing thought and having to start all over, which only frustrated me more.

Anyone could see, my body was there but my mind wasn’t. And it showed in the results- morale was down, sales were down, people were quitting. I tried so hard to remain stoic, but the worse the results were, the angrier and more ashamed I became, and the more I isolated myself. The last thing I wanted was a failing legacy on the heels of a failed marriage.

One day, I was finishing up a performance evaluation with an employee, when he asked me genuinely, “how are you doing?” I broke down crying, and I remember feeling so defeated and humiliated for it, as all semblance of professionalism flew out the window. I had been so determined to prevent my personal issues from affecting me professionally. Since my divorce, I had only taken one day off. Prior to this breakdown, that was a point of pride, but as I sat there evaluating my own performance, it quickly became my biggest regret. 

He told me all about his own divorce, and at the end, we hugged each other.  It was my first “good day at work” in months. In that moment, I realized I wasn’t being an effective leader because I wasn’t willing to be human.  Leadership is just like any other relationship- it's all about connection and as humans, we connect through emotion. Avoiding or internalizing emotion causes disconnection, no matter the relationship. And the results of disconnection are never good.

That day, I gave myself permission to adjust the bar.  I recognized that I needed to take the time to heal in order to get back to a high-performance level. With that shift in mindset, healing became a priority deserving of my attention. In the meantime, I learned to be OK with just being OK (in business and in life), and any other perfectionist can appreciate just how hard that was. But I learned to value progress over perfection.

In spite of my fear of losing the team's respect, I reset expectations for myself at work and started delegating more.  I slowly began to remove the elephant in the room and opened up about my situation and the necessary adjustments I had to make.  Not only did I maintain their respect, but the more honest and vulnerable I was, the more they stepped up for me. In fact, the more I leaned on them, the more the business started turning around and the more they developed professionally.  They surprised me in so many ways. They motivated and encouraged me, they made me laugh, and they helped me get my groove back!