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Betrayed and Annoyed

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Dear Sally
Weekly Advice Straight From The Horse’s Mouth.

Dear Sally,

I found out today from one of the people on my team that another team member had basically been telling people that I was a bad manager, though I wasn’t given specific details. She hadn’t brought any feedback to me directly, and I actually thought we had a pretty good relationship. Ironically, she’s leaving our company in two weeks to go off to business school (and I had spent quite a lot of personal time writing her glowing recommendations to help her get in). I’m having a certain amount of trouble getting her to wrap up the last things she’s promised before she goes and I’m not sure if or how to confront her about this or if I should just let her leave without it unaddressed. I feel hurt and betrayed (and annoyed!) and both want the feedback so I can improve but also don’t really want to confront her.

What would you advise?

Dear Betrayed (and annoyed),

Sounds like you got kicked by a sassy little filly who now needs to get “schooled” by some older, wiser mares. Let’s get started!

First of all, I want to offer one foundational rule of the herd. I like to call it: We Don’t Listen to Fools. As a horse, if I were to listen to rowdy, obnoxious youngsters, I would be led straight into trouble. They need to do what they do to play and explore, but they are reckless and uneducated and they need elders to teach them how to interact in the group, keep themselves safe. They need to learn the rules of the herd. They don’t set the rules of the herd! The feedback you got sounds like it came from someone who is NOT qualified to teach you. This person is destructive and immature if she was engaged in harmful gossip and not brave enough to address things with you in real time so you could actually adjust in the relationship. Door knob feedback…..the kind of opinions we express on our way out of the door…..are not helpful at all. They leave no room for repair or improvement or development. Therefore, we don’t accept feedback as reliable if it comes from some untrustworthy.

While there may be some truth or insight in this individual’s feedback, it would be best to ask for feedback from people you trust and who are willing to be kind when pointing out the places where you need to grow. Places of growth and development are sacred and tender in that they are often connected to old wounds or neglected parts of ourselves. We want to surround ourselves with a herd who has a kind of reverence, kindness, and wisdom so that it is safe to look honestly at ourselves and grow with support and not with shame. Horses don’t really do shame. But from what I understand, it’s something ya’ll need to develop a vaccine for. It’s an epidemic. When someone has shamed you, it’s probably safe to say they caught that shame from touching noses with someone who has the shame disease. Stay clear! You don’t want to catch it.

So how do you clean this all up? Well, for me, it’s as if someone passing through your pasture left a big steaming pile of manure. For the sake of practicing boundaries, honest and protective feedback, and learning to use your leadership voice, let this young woman’s behavior be an educational laboratory. Walk right towards it and give her some herd education. Get your wise feet planted in the earth and tell her what you know to be true about that kind of behavior. It might be a lesson that saves her ass in her next herd. Show her with kindness but directness what it looks like to be a lead mare. Let her know that her behavior is toxic and that if you had found out about that before her plans to resign, she would have been asked to leave. Let her know that this is NOT how we give honest feedback and that her behavior hurts others and affects the safety and trust in a group. Careful not to shame her. If you are actively angry (like steam coming from your ears), you will likely pick up the shame weapon. So wait until your anger has cooled. It will.

In the meantime, take the content of the feedback to someone you trust and ask them to help you sort through it. Look for the nugget of truth. It may or may not be there. But look closely. Strong leaders are always willing to look at their part. Look, listen, learn. And then let it go. Say a prayer for her. She’s going to need it! And then give yourself a huge hug for being brave enough to face this. You could have taken the shame she delivered and gone into hiding. Instead, you reached out. Nice work!

Love, Sally