I was interviewing candidates for a senior role in my department and was unimpressed with everyone I met. When an unusual resume crossed my desk, I invited K in for a talk. My first question: I see that you were at your last job for quite some time. What made you decide to leave?
What happened next was unexpected and refreshing. “I left because I was living a nightmare. My boss was abusive, manipulative and everyone knew it. She asked me to carry out things that I knew were wrong. I stayed way too long and I feel terrible about that.” You might think I should have shut down the interview right there because K didn’t have the good sense to walk away ages ago. Instead, I probed for more insights. What compelled you to stay? What was your inner dialogue like? What have you learned about yourself as a result of this experience?
It was the most fascinating hiring discussion I’ve ever had.
I learned so much about K’s character, background, motivations and moral compass. He was very clear about never wanting to be in that position again and the specific lessons he took from such an awful experience that compromised his integrity. I hired him on the spot, and he went on to be the most respected member of our team and my eventual successor.
Stories are powerful. They help us reveal ourselves in meaningful ways that allows others to connect to us. Our stories expose our humanity, our flaws and our strengths. That K chose to share a devasting experience that didn’t put him in the best light was a plus in my book. I was able to see his vulnerability and rawness (lots of emotions in his telling). I was pulled into the story and could put myself in his shoes. I could relate, I could empathize, and I could celebrate his introspective learning.
Share your stories. Ask to hear others’ stories. Don’t just tell the sanitized, idealized ones. Talk about your failures and challenges. Reveal your life experiences and your humanity. I can’t overstate how stories help us to care about each other. Caring nurtures relationships which, in turn, allows us to collaborate and do great work together.