Who will cry when you say goodbye?

Some years ago I attended the farewell for the Chief Executive of a well-known company.

The room was packed with people. They’d come to bid farewell to someone who’d been at the centre of their working lives for many years.

I’d worked with him and his team for a long time and knew many in the room well.

Fortunately, the business was in good health.

It was winning in the marketplace.

They’d also built a strong leadership culture. A magnificent accomplishment, considering how hard it is to achieve and sustain both.

The time had now come to hand over the leadership baton.

Emotions in the room were high.

The CEO thanked everyone for coming. Then he reflected on their journey together. True to form his language was simple, heartfelt, and direct.

I knew his style well. He was no ‘touchy feely’ leader. In fact, quite the opposite.

I’d had my own experience with his directness right in the beginning of our relationship. He asked to see me privately after a team engagement. “You added very little value in that session” he told me.

It was a direct confrontation.

“Here’s why I asked you to work with us and what I’m going to need from you differently going forward,” was his follow on.

He was very direct, but he was also kind.

It was a defining moment in my career. Defining because he was right. He confronted me with what I already knew. I had not added value.

And he’d cared enough to tell me so!

He could have taken the easy way out. That’s what normally happens. Expectations go unmet. No discussion happens and slowly over time people lose confidence (and respect) in one another.

He was not that kind of leader.

At the time it was hard and embarrassing. But deep down I trusted his motive and I’m forever grateful to him.

Rather than turning me against him it inspired deep loyalty.

He believed in me when I did not believe in myself.

He saw me not living up to my potential and he wanted me to do something about it. The effect was to wake me up inside. To turn me from mediocrity and encourage me to strive for a higher standard.

My encounter with him was not unique to me.

Different versions of that conversation had happened with every person in the room. He’d had a direct hand in shaping them into the leaders they’d become.

People like this don’t come into our lives very often.

  • People who don’t allow us to settle with the current version of ourselves.
  • People who expect us to grow and change. Even when it’s uncomfortable and inconvenient.

He was one of those people.

Saying goodbye was hard. People had tears in their eyes. Some were actually crying.

So profoundly grateful were they for the role he’d played in their lives that it had triggered a deep emotional response.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that people cry when you pass on your own leadership baton.

  • The extent to which you are helping them to grow and change.
  • To not be settling for the current version of themselves.
  • To be active in helping them to see and unlock their potential.

It’s up to you …

Will you be one of those very few leaders they encounter in their working lives … who care enough about them to inspire them to strive for a higher standard?

Who have the courage to confront them with the truth (kindly), even if it hurts?


Think of a person who believed in you more than you believed in yourself at a critical moment in your life. What emotion do you feel for that person right now?
Please comment below – we love hearing from you.

Please also read a related post: The Motive – What Kind of Leader are You?

We love hearing from you. Please comment below or email me at grant@leadershipworks.co.za.

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