The past month has been a real roller coaster for me. My book Leading Lightly was released on June 28, 2022 and just a few days before, I said goodbye to my beloved cat, Henri. In a matter of days, I experienced tremendous highs and lows – the joy and relief of finally sharing my labor of love for over four years with the world. But at the same time, I was experiencing tremendous grief and sadness over the loss of Henri.
Proud Pet Parent
I consider myself an extraordinarily empathic pet mom. I had always wanted to have children but wasn’t able to, so I shared that motherly love with my pets. And Henri gave it right back to me for 18 years.
You see, this cat was more like a dog than a cat. He came when I called him, he would respond when I talked to him and he would alert me to danger; he was a highly relational cat. He also had his own rituals, such as sitting on his dining room chair patiently waiting for dinner to start and grousing loudly if it was late. He loved pork chops so much he could identify them coming out of the freezer and would express his excitement. But his paws down favorite was sushi, and you would think the world was coming to an end when he caught a whiff of it coming into the house on a Friday night. While it sounds like I was a bad mom feeding him food that would eventually contribute to his demise, he had the patience of a monk waiting for just a morsel or two when we were finished. And if it isn’t obvious yet, I’m Italian and food is love.
Henri was a very adventurous cat. He was confident, fearless even. He loved to explore outdoors (supervised of course) and even managed to run a coyote out of our yard with a rare burst of adrenaline recently. He traveled back and forth with me and my wife Kathy between our homes in Palm Springs and Chicago, but things changed over the past six months while we were in California. We had been treating his kidney disease daily for some time but we suddenly found out his liver was also rapidly failing.
Henri started to lose his eyesight and didn’t venture too far out in the yard anymore. He was responding in different ways that showed me he was feeling vulnerable. It became clear that I was going to have to say goodbye to my baby soon. Knowing that he might not make it back to Chicago this summer weighed heavily on me as I prepared for my book’s launch. Kathy and I made the difficult decision to put Henri to rest just three days before the launch. We honored him with his favorite sushi for his last meal and he was allowed as much as he wanted.
Building a relationship with a pet is truly one of life’s greatest pleasures, and I was rewarded with 18+ years of a very intimate bond with a funny, entertaining, loving cat. And just as Henri became vulnerable at the end of his life, the release of my book has left me feeling vulnerable as well.
If you aren’t in my inner circle, you may be surprised to learn that I am an introvert. I don’t really socialize outside of a close group of friends and historically, I don’t network or normally do a lot of podcast interviews about my job. But now suddenly, I’ve been thrust into the spotlight.
With the unexpected success that the book has seen in such a short time, including a Wall Street Journal Best Seller recognition, I am both grateful and humbled. I’ve since been invited on multiple media interviews and podcasts that are strongly encouraged, by my new publicist, to accept. The second podcast in my life was on aired in 149 countries and I felt entirely exposed. As gracious as my host was, I did not want this to air.
You are probably asking – how could someone who fought to succeed as one of the first female traders in the financial industry, someone who coaches Fortune 500 company leaders regularly and someone who gives presentations on stage to audiences of hundreds of people – be intimidated by being on a podcast? It’s because I have no control over how people will receive my life’s work and book. This is putting myself out there in an entirely new way.
When I work with executive coaching clients, we have a deep, rich, trusting relationship. Even when you spend just a day with me in a virtual leadership workshop, you get to know me. I share stories from my own career as well as my personal life, and I have no problems showing vulnerability in that environment. When I talk to clients, it’s almost always about them and not about me. I’ve spent my coaching life focusing on others, and I am far less comfortable when the focus is shifted to me.
But with this book, I’ve been thrust into a spotlight and anything you say can be taken out of context. You can’t anticipate how your words will be interpreted by others and what questions or criticisms could be thrown at you. It’s a feeling of being out of control, which I am certainly not used to.
I feel like Henri must have felt when he ventured out as a confident cat and shortly after, he didn’t feel safe. It’s the same cat, in the same environment, having a different experience. That’s my life right now, and these new opportunities are an uncomfortable place I’m learning to lean into.
Today’s leaders need to be willing to be vulnerable to create trust in the workplace, but that can be terrifying. No leader wants to show weakness or admit that everything is not perfect.
Leadership IQ’s The State of Leadership Development in 2020 surveyed over 20,000 employees to assess leaders’ effectiveness. Only 20% of employees say that their leader always openly shares the challenges they’re facing. Another 21% of employees say that their leader never or rarely openly shares the challenges they’re facing. But not sharing is hurting leaders. The same study found that the more a leader openly shares the challenges facing the organization, the more employees will be inspired to give their best effort at work.
Someone I admire very much, Brené Brown, has studied social connection and found that vulnerability and authenticity lie at the root of human connection, something that is often missing from workplaces. But there are opportunities every day. Examples she gives of vulnerability include calling an employee or colleague whose child is not well, reaching out to someone who has just had a loss in their family, asking someone for help, taking responsibility for something that went wrong at work, or sitting by the bedside of a colleague or employee with a terminal illness.
Gone are the days of separating personal and professional lives and only portraying a polished image at work. No one is perfect, so why would we try to project that appearance? People who show vulnerability are seen as humans and establish closer connections to their colleagues and employees. One of the best ways to do that is to go outside of your comfort zone. It may make you vulnerable in the short term, but it will make you stronger in the long run.
It’s not lost on me that while Henri was bringing himself away from the world, I’m starting to put myself in it.