'A critical task of leadership is to protect space for the expression of people's doubts'.
Gordon's weekly meeting rant was an extended version that day.
I sat on my side of the desk and he on his and I did not interrupt because I had nothing to say.
I had to be ready with something wise when he eventually finished. Supportive words that would reassure him and affirm his conviction that the staff member was wrong and he was right. Something boss-like.
I had nothing.
His cadence signalled that he was drawing to a close and that it would be my turn.
He'd stopped talking and was looking at me. My cue. Nope. I let the silence run on because I had no boss-worthy words.
'Do your job, boss,' his folded arms taunted.
I considered whether this was the moment when I did that brave thing that I'd read about and shrugged and said 'Gordon, I don't know.' I was sure I'd read that people admired that.
But I knew Gordon too well and he wouldn't. He was smart and practical. He loved solving problems and assumed the same in others. Yet he wasn't acting smart or practical or curious today. Maybe I could get away with a lazy answer, given that he was tossing me lazy questions. So unlike Gordon.
Something better than admitting I Don't Know.
'Gordon,' I began, forming words as I spoke them and not retrieved from the memory of a management book.
'This is not you. You're better than this.'
I named the thing that had been choking my words.
'You're better than this. I know because I know you. I know because you've told me so.'
'Yes. Remember what you told me at your job interview?'
'Your answer when I asked you how you would respond to difficult staff members like the one you've struck today?'
'No. I don't remember.'
'You told me that it was like playing the piano. You even mimed the actions. Sometimes you had one hand playing a melody at one end while the other one kept a rhythm going down the other. 'Just keep that rhythm going,' you said. 'It all combines to make the music.'' I want to see more of that Gordon than the one whinging in front of me today.'
Gordon was smiling.
'You liked that piano metaphor? Fooled you, didn't I?' he said.
'No. Now get back to that rhythm work.'
Gordon's faith in me that I knew him led us both back to ourselves.