Leading during Personal Crisis

When I was diagnosed with Grave's disease almost 20 years ago,
the cure was simple:  ablate (kill with radioactive iodine) the thyroid slowly
and replace the hormones it would normally produce with a synthetic hormone pill.

Only it wasn't that simple. 

My thyroid stopped working suddenly instead of gradually,
and my body didn't absorb the synthetic pills.

I went from having the metabolism of a teenager to that of an 80-year old in one day.

It took 9 months for my body to get used to the synthetic pills,
and my life during that time was extremely challenging..

My brain and my body functioned on a range from exhausted to lethargic,
and I learned how important hormones are regarding mood stability.
I even postponed my wedding.

Did I mention I was a high-school band and choir director?  Yeah, not ideal circumstances. 

I made some good choices and some poor ones.  
Here are my leadership wins and losses during that time.

What I Did Right

  • I talked to my boss.  That conversation wasn't easy, but it was the best decision I made during that time and I made it early on.  I didn't take time to wonder how he'd react; I just walked in and told him the facts.  He listened and asked me what I needed from him.
  • I took time off.  I told my principal that I was going to need to take time off, possibly without much notice, depending on how debilitating my symptoms were that day.  And that's exactly what I did.  It wasn't my intention to use all my available vacation days, but that's what ended up happening. 
  • I delegated.  I agreed to an arrangement with the district to give some of my classes to a staff member wanting additional duties.  I took a pay cut but kept my health insurance.  I also relied on the student leaders I'd been training from the beginning of the school year.

What I Did Wrong

  • I didn't tell the students.  This was truly an epic fail.  They could tell something wasn't right, but without knowing what was really going on, they were left to conjecture.  What they came up with was worse than the truth.  One student, for instance, thought I was having relationship problems.  I was a very private person, and I thought that I needed to portray strength at all times.  What they needed was for me to communicate my vulnerability to them in a factual, professional way instead of putting up a front.
  • I didn't have a great support system.  I had recently moved, so few people knew the quality of my character. 
    No one at work had known me before that year.  I also didn't have a regular physician to manage my expectations or a therapist or coach to help me cope.
  • I didn't have a mindset of empowerment.  I didn't have all the tools I do now to manage my thoughts and actions.  My feeling like a victim in some ways contributed to my health problems.  I allowed myself to wonder why this was happening to me and what I'd done to deserve it.

No one is at fault when someone is going through a difficult time, leadership included.  An opportunity always rises with a challenge.  Getting in touch with my own humanity and vulnerability could have made me closer to my students, but I couldn't see that at the time. 

Learning and growing as a leader takes time and challenges.  A good coach helps you get there faster. 

Dr. Nancy Williams is a musician, educator, and culture coach and consultant.  Join her email list here and receive leadership inspiration directly to your inbox, as well as the free guide "3 Ways to Beat Imposter Syndrome."