February 5, 2013

Ya, I Cry at Work. Do You?

Dan Pontefract Last Friday night, I sat down at home with the family to watch a film. Group consensus found us selecting “We Bought a Zoo”, a brilliant 2011 film by Pearl Jam fan Cameron Crowe based on a true story. Benjamin Mee – rather tragically – loses his wife to illness and subsequently decides to ‘buy a zoo’ which then precipitates him to move his two children from city life to rural zoo life. You can visit Benjamin’s Dartmoor Zoo site to learn more and to find out how you can book tickets to actually visit their zoo. (they even have a European Reindeer)

By the closing scene, I was a bucket of tears. And I wasn’t cutting onions.

That of course got me thinking.

Do you cry at work?

In the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, President Obama wept during his press conference discussing the situation. Who wouldn’t? Who couldn’t? I did, and I was thousands of kilometers away in Europe on holiday.

Is it ok to cry amongst your peers and team given difficult situations? Do you feel uncomfortable if someone cries in front of you?

crying2If President Obama cried with the entire American nation watching, does that make you think more or less of him? Do ‘real leaders’ cry?

Do my current or past peers think more or less of me because I occasionally cry in a given situation?

I’ll provide three personal examples for you to contemplate:

  • 1997 – While watching the graduation class of St. Patrick Regional Secondary School march across the stage to collect their degrees, I was tearing up. When the Valedictorian spoke, by this point I was openly weeping. I knew it was the last time I was going to be a part of a high school graduation as I was moving on to other pastures. The students (and staff) didn’t know I was leaving until after they had celebrated their moment. It was tough but I believe they were ok with my waterfall.
  • 2001 – I had to let someone go while working at BCIT. It was a painful decision, but one that had to be made for various reasons. During the discussion with the employee, I welled up. It was the individual who looked at me and said, “Dan, it’s ok. I get it.” When I told the rest of the team that the individual was no longer going to be a part of our group, I welled up there as well. I don’t think this affected my leadership or the results of our team. I don’t have empirical proof it affected it negatively or positively, but perhaps I was viewed more humanely in the eyes of everyone.
  • 2008 – I made the painful decision to leave SAP and a culture, team and ‘work family’ that was very dear to me, and my heart. When I informed my direct manager in California about my decision, I wept on the phone. When I gathered the leadership team together, I wept there too. And when I had to tell the entire team of roughly 100 members, I lost it … couldn’t even finish my sentence.

After personally opening up in this space and describing a few examples of me weeping in front of various peers in various situations, do you now think less of me?

I’m not suggesting, however, that I’m an emotional wreck, watering conference rooms after every difficult situation. That might be coined emotional unintelligence. But rest assured, I don’t think differently of those that cry at work.

We’re all humans; get on the bus.


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