Support is a Vital Resource for All Leaders

I have never felt more alone than when I was surrounded by colleagues who insisted that I was doing a good job

That sounds totally unreasonable, right? How can you both have support and be totally isolated at the same time?

I had built a culture on the teams I run with full transparency. We talked about everything. They could bring anything to me. It’s been years, and they still call me to celebrate or talk through tough moments. I lived to have people grow with me and leave for better jobs, despite the hardship it created to replace them. At eye level, we were crushing it.

But looking upward? No where close to that. It was somehow both a vault with no shared information and a constantly churning inane information farm. Questions got answered, but we somehow never got answers.

I stayed up late every night making sure my employees got what they needed and had the tools that I felt would make their jobs easier. I went to bat for them. And yet, I still went to bed every night feeling uneasy about what I was walking into the next morning.

Our leadership team was erratic. They took startup pivots to an unbelievable extreme. They gave impossible directives and held you accountable for not meeting them.

And you know what? Those elements were bad but they weren’t the worst. I don’t recommend anyone stay in an environment like that if you can avoid it, but that was not the part that ran me into the ground and made me feel like I was losing my mind. 

The parts that made it wholly unsustainable were the things that were said that weren’t meant, and the things that weren’t said that were.

I’m not a person who can turn off my heart just because it’s work. There are people involved, and we have a responsibility to take care of them. Further, we’re providing a service to someone, and that service should be what we say it is. All of that matters, and I have never understood how people can just divorce the heart from the business.

I say that knowing that, if protecting your peace is the goal, this is not the way to live. But it is the way I’m wired.

So when it felt like I wasn’t getting the whole story, I carried that with me all the time. Even when I desperately wanted to not care. Even when I wanted to let them make their own decisions with their own money because I was still getting a paycheck, the feeling that I was being kept out of conversations kept me up at night.

I regularly heard from friends and colleagues that the company wouldn’t survive without me. That no one knew how to manage common problems or design solutions for new customers because I handled so much of it.

If I was so invaluable, why did it seem like the people above me wanted to keep me at a distance?

The reality was that I was fighting for a seat at the table that didn’t exist. They had decided long before that I wasn’t welcome in, but they were incentivized to make me believe that a spot was waiting for me.

So even though I had been part of creating a world that made people want to go to work and I spent all day talking to people, it was lonely.

It wasn’t until I left that role that I realized that that environment wasn’t indicative of the way workplaces should operate. Support should be 360 degrees. Leaders should be surrounded by teams who can pull their weight and provide helpful feedback, and they should have mentors who can fill in the gaps for what they don’t get from immediate leadership. I thought that it was supposed to be lonely at the top. In reality, you should not be looking up at an opaque pane between yourself and your leadership.

That isolative space made me think so many negative things about myself and my capabilities even though my teams were thriving. Leaders need leadership, and that vacuum without it can lead to burnout and loss of talent. Support is a vital resource for all leaders.

Author’s note: Lauren "L2" Howard, President and CEO of ElleTwo and VirtuELLE Health, specializes in clinical operations, healthcare technology, and helping women redefine professionalism. At VirtuELLE Health, L2 marries her experiences to provide infrastructure design, market fit insights, implementation strategies, growth models and more to healthcare and allied healthcare companies. She works with groups around the globe to help direct strategy and advise on growing digital health technologies and programs in a post-pandemic world. Through the re-launched ElleTwo, L2 will lift up the voices of women, provide resources for growth, and community for support to anyone looking to redefine professionalism for themselves. You can find more info about L2 and her work at;;

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