While attending a Leadership Conference the group of managers was tasked with sharing their own biggest challenge as a manager. Although some of my peers struggled to recall a memorable event, my recollection, unfortunately, came quickly and without hesitation.
Several years back, I held the position of Vice President of Operations for a financial institution. Therefore, my primary role was to ensure operational efficiencies, maintain a high level of production while effectively managing the level of risk. My counter-part was Jeff the Vice President of Sales. Although we had a great deal of mutual respect for one another, by virtue of our roles there were periods of conflict and frustration.
Jeff and I had worked together for several years. We liked each other as people and respected each other in the workplace. However, on Friday afternoon there was a challenging transaction. Jeff was fighting hard for an exception to be approved for one of his Loan Officers. However, the loan was not only declined by multiple Underwriters but also the Underwriting Manager. Jeff appealed the loan decision to me.
Upon review of the file, I concurred with the previous decisions that the layered risk was just too great to approve the loan. However, Jeff became very argumentative transitioning the discussion from professional to personal. To preserve our strong working relationship, I suggested that we table the discussion until Monday morning. I knew that Jeff was spending the weekend in Las Vegas so I hoped that he was relaxed and more level-headed come Monday.
I arrived at the office Monday morning preparing for another potentially heated discussion with Jeff. Unfortunately, this discussion would never take place. Shortly after 7:00 am I received a disturbing call from Jeff’s father. He spoke slow and without emotion as he informed me that Jeff would not be in the office. I was told that it appeared that Jeff leaped from the top of Cesar’s Palace taking his own life.
Nearly every emotion simultaneously ran through my body – confusion, sadness, remorse, guilt, anxiety, anger, etc. Constantly asking myself “why”? How did this happen? What could have been so bad? Was it Friday’s conversation? How did I not see the signs? So many questions without any answers. So many emotions. It was simply overwhelming. However, I then realized that in less than an hour I would have nearly 100 employees arriving who will encounter a similar level of emotion.
Although the level of personal pain and confusion was so great that I felt as though I might vomit, I did not have the luxury of time to manage my own emotions. It was far more important to focus on the employees and the level of emotion they were about to encounter. I would need to ensure that I off-loaded the work to another operational site before they arrived as well as coordinated with Human Resources and insured that I had grief counselors on-site within a couple of hours.
Delivering the message to the staff was the most difficult announcement that I have ever made. Remaining completely professional (while attempting to maintain composure as a certain level of emotion could not help but be released) was by far my biggest managing challenge. I held employees as they wept and listened to others as they yelled expletives in anger. I laughed with some as they reflected on humorous stories of Jeff and simply sat in silence with many others. I consoled all employees while being asked a thousand of times the question “why” – with the inability to answer. The healing process could not be rushed and it took several weeks to obtain some sense of normalcy.
Was this Manager’s challenge managed appropriately? There are always things one wishes they had done better. Individual personal emotions can be difficult to manage – especially considering such a dramatic situation, but to manage (and sincerely care about) the collective amplified emotion of all employees is critical to the success of the individuals and the team. Was it managed appropriately? All I can hope is that I helped many through a painful situation.
Personally, there are still occasions where Jeff will enter my mind causing me to wonder and question. Many thoughts are not logical, but emotional. As we all know, emotions and logic do not always go hand in hand. All I can hope is that this incident will forever remain as my biggest challenge as a manager.
Husband, father, coffee connoisseur and lover of all things hockey. At 51 I sometimes wonder have I done enough. I have been married to my best friend for 30 years. She knows all my faults and loves me anyway, As a father of “almost always” perfect boys, I am always surprised at what life has to offer. It is messy, scary, thrilling, and always fun.