Anyone that knows me knows I am a huge Eric Clapton fan. Perhaps it started because he has my first name - or I have his, whatever...but ever since my man Sean gave me a greatest hits cassette in the back row of our 9th grade Honors English class, I have been hooked on Slowhand. I have almost all of his music. I can't even explain why, but I just love him. I'm a Claptonite, a Clapaholic. Deal with it.
So, when my family wanted to get pets, I could only allow it if the names had value to me. (you see where I'm going here..) Our dog Layla died after 15 years right before we moved, and my kids wanted guinea pigs. Their names? Blackie and Brownie, both named after Clapton's famous guitars.
Well, on May 1st Blackie died quite suddenly. Goldie just came home and she was already stiff. Very traumatic. While I didn't have a very close relationship with Blackie, I immediately began thinking about how to tell the 9 year old that the companion he reads to at night has passed. As I thought about what to say, it dawned on me later this would be a good leadership post on how to deliver bad news, how to tell someone uncomfortable change is necessary and coming, how to tell someone something they don't really want to hear.
1. Try to set the table for the meal
I told Q, "Son, I love you very much. I will always take care of you but I can't shield you from the realities of life. Sometimes bad stuff just happens and we have to figure out a way to deal with it". You can't sugar coat bad news but try to establish a base line of support. No matter what, you're gonna walk them through whatever's next.
2. Don't drag it out but strike a balance between direct and compassion
"Blackie died, son, and I'm so so sorry". Nothing I can say can bring her back so I'm not gonna drag it out and make it worse!
3. Acknowledge some people have to grieve change
"Q, I'm sure this hurts and when things hurt it is appropriate to show your feelings. Don't let anyone tell you how to feel. If you want to cry, cry! You can always feel free to show me your feelings." People need to grieve. Don't tell them to be strong! Some people really loved the old way of doing things and need time to adjust to the new thing. But if you rush them through it, make them feel dumb about how they feel, etc, etc., they won't follow you.
4. Give people the freedom to be real. "Q, I am proud of you for crying," I said as he sobbed in my arms. "You are growing up to be a really strong young boy." Strength comes from being vulnerable! We are not robots; we have feelings. We have emotions. As long as the manifestations of your feelings are not destructive, hurtful and appropriate, go ahead and show them! It means you care.
5. Change will come healthier and quicker if people are allowed to engage in the process. Q is doing pretty good as I write this. He's even thought of getting another one. He wants to name it Lana. I don't have the heart to tell him that if EC hasn't written a song about it or named a guitar after it, it ain't happening...
Anyway, we as Leaders want to hurry up and lead. Be careful or you lose people in the turn.