They’re Just People

May 15, 2024

By Dave Bushy, PCC

As an executive coach, I work with senior corporate executives, vice presidents and leaders throughout companies and organizations with widely varied backgrounds and experience. 

And as a senior vice president at a corporation back in the day, I was honored to know women and men at all levels of leadership doing their best to handle the challenges they faced. 

The U.S. Army was no different, when I was a young lieutenant working alongside enlisted men, non-commissioned officers, ranking officers and even a few generals as they coped with the challenges of organizing a diverse group of Americans working together to defend our country.

What do all these leaders I have encountered over the years have in common?  A number of answers might come to mind, but this emerged for me in a conversation with a client recently:

They’re just people.

This conclusion came from a young leader of a successful company who was talking with me about the joys and challenges of working with his team.  He is a hands-on leader who connects well with others and does his best to continuously communicate and exhibit servant leadership to everyone with whom he works.  When the company is successful, he gives the team credit – when things don’t work out as well as anticipated, he accepts responsibility and shoulders more than his share of blame. 

He discussed with me that sometimes he is viewed as some sort of mythical “boss” who lives in an ivory tower, pulling the levers of corporate power while coolly and analytically leading the company.  When he is out in the front lines, some view him as superhuman. Others, though, voice opinions about how he could make better decisions, pay more and manage the company more efficiently.

In truth, he’s pretty hard on himself too. Not only does he think others expect him to be superhuman; he expects it of himself. There are the times, though when he is tired, stressed and downright frustrated. And times when those emotions come through in his actions and his words a bit more than he would like.

I asked him: “How do you handle it when you have those feelings?”

He looked at me, took a moment to collect his thoughts and said:  “Hey, don’t they realize that the senior leaders of a company are just people?”

I listened to him expand on this thought for a while.  His words initially pointed to how he wanted to change the attitudes of those around him about him and his senior team.  Then he began to reflect on how it affects him personally.

“How much can you change what others think of you?” I asked.

“I can try, but I suspect I can’t,” he said, and added, “But some people close to me see and accept the real me – the happy one, the sad one, the emotional one and even the angry one.”

“And how willing are you to accept that you’re just a person doing the best you can?  Aren’t you “just people,” too,” I added, using my fingers to highlight the quotation marks.

He laughed, saying “Sure, I’m willing to accept that I am “just people”.”

“And what choices can you make as a result?”

“I suppose I can be a bit more open about my imperfections.  If I try to hide them I lose my authenticity.  But it’s hard to do that.”

“Why?” I asked quietly.

“Because they need me to be the strong, capable leader who makes the right decisions and leads well almost all of the time.”

“Until you don’t.  What then?”

“I get it,” he answered.  “Maybe I should accept the fact that I’m just human and lead that way.  It might even allow my fellow senior leaders to be more vulnerable and open about their imperfections.  We’ve got a great team at the senior level and our openness about our own development and growth can go a long way in helping us all grow.

“And what about the front line?”

“It might help for me to be more open about myself and my own growth and even admit that I might not know everything.  Maybe I could even have other leaders be out front with our people.”

“Why do you want to do that,” I asked.

He smiled: “Because we’re all just people too, doing the best we can.”

Dave Bushy of Boston Executive Coaches – – is a an ICF-certified coach who was trained at the Gestalt International Study Center (GISC).  Dave is a former U.S. Army officer and senior airline executive who works with leaders throughout the world.

Image by Malachi Witt from Pixabay

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