Leaders often have to hide their problems

by | Aug 18, 2022 | CEO/Executive Directors, Organizational Leadership, Personal Leadership | 2 comments

Leaders tend to hide our problems. We realize most people are more interested in their problems than ours. And sometimes we find sharing our issues becomes a weapon others use against us.

So we build up a habit of hiding.

Listening to La’Vista Jone’s BOSS Talk podcast today, I heard Tamara Kemper share a fun idea. She asked what it would be like to have a gathering of leaders who each had a post-it note on their head. The post-it would say: I’m struggling with… and each leader would fill in what they are struggling with.

Wouldn’t that be great? Here are some thoughts sparked by this idea:

  1. The attendees would need to be trustworthy. Sharing what we’re struggling with is vulnerable. And can even feel shameful. We often think that since we’re a leader, we shouldn’t struggle. We should’ve already figured out the answer to the problem.

  2. This would normalize the humanity of leaders. Not having spaces to share about what we’re struggling with creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. We don’t share struggles because we don’t see others share. Since others aren’t sharing, we assume we’re the only ones with struggles. Which makes us even less likely to share.

    The reality is: human beings struggle. As we find safe spaces or safe people to share with, we are able to more fully bring ourselves to our work. And helps us become more energized. Hiding our struggles, worrying people will find out, is exhausting.


  3. We’re really not that great at hiding our struggles. I love that the post-it would be facing out. Because we’re really not that good at hiding our leadership problems. Our teams and direct reports are often more clued in to them than we think.

    I’m not advocating airing your problems all the time. But I like the reminder that others probably see what I think I’m hiding. It’s like “hiding” behind a glass door. You feel good because the door is closed. But everyone can still see in!

Would you go to such an event?

What do you think? If you knew the leaders were your peers and would be supportive, would you go to such an event?

It’s not always safe or appropriate for leaders to share our struggles. But never sharing them limits our effectiveness. And can create a toxic environment for our teams.

I think that’s what I love most about being a leadership coach. Coaching sessions are a safe space for leaders to let their guard down. A place where it’s o.k. not to know. A space outside of the hiring and firing that happens at work. And a time where there isn’t any competition for the leader’s job. As a coach, I get to be 100% focused on the leader. And they get to work out problems with a peer they trust.

Maybe I should start my coaching sessions with “I’m struggling with” post-it’s clients can wear!


  1. Hillel Korin

    Love this idea.. as we respond to questions its ok to admit that as a coach we also struggle (at times) as we too are human( this goes to the root of coaching as Whitmore discusses


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