The Surprising Baggage You Are Carrying As A Leader

What baggage is most present in your life? What could be different in your life if you found a way to put some of this baggage away?

Steffan Surdek
July 3, 2017
Baggage we carry

Over the last five or six years, I played hockey in different garage leagues, usually very late at night. Hockey is a very fast-paced sport. At times it seemed like even if we were “playing for fun," there were nights when some players were reckless. This caused frustration to ramp up and made the game less fun. I often wondered what the difference was between a good clean game and a rough night.

Let's bring this to the business world for a moment. I am sure we can all agree that slashing aside, there are meetings that look a lot like those rough hockey games. In those meetings, ever notice how some talk and argue their points to death while nobody seems to listen? How some show up with a hidden agenda or with a Teflon vest so that no responsibility sticks to them.

We need to become more aware of the baggage we carry to help us become more productive in our lives.

What Kind Of Baggage Do We Carry?

Reflecting on those hockey games, I saw the baggage each player carried showed up in their play. Players tired and frustrated from their week were more aggressive and less patient. I guess you could say the game reflected the collective baggage brought by 20 players too.

But let’s bring this back to business meetings for a moment. Take a moment and think about the last difficult meeting you were a part of. Ask yourself the following questions and write down your answers:

  • What baggage did you bring into that meeting?
  • What assumptions or beliefs did you bring about each person who attended the meeting?
  • Which non-negotiable ideas or beliefs did you have at the start of the meeting?
  • Did you show up to the meeting open to new ideas or closed to changing your initial position?
  • Did you have a different goal than other participants in the meeting?

Now take a moment and reflect on your answers. What was the impact of your baggage on the meeting? Did you contribute to making the meeting difficult? What could you have done differently?

The Impact Of Your Baggage On Your Leadership

We spoke about meetings, but what about your leadership? How does the baggage that you carry impact how you lead your team?

When you are having conversations with someone:

  • What assumptions are you making about them or their reactions in certain situations?
  • What is the impact of these assumptions in how you treat them? Are you listening to them and considering their opinions?
  • Do they feel you are listening to them?

Think about when you present a new idea to your team. Is it so well thought out there is no space for others to contribute and improve your idea? How about when you are trying to resolve a difficult situation? Does your impatience or your frustration close the door to people telling you what you may not want to hear?

As a leader, you need to develop a strong sense of awareness about yourself in the moment. This will allow you to see when your baggage kicks in and choose a different way of doing things. You must take responsibility for your impact on the people who surround you. Notice when you're not leaving space for someone or when you're shutting them down. In that moment, take responsibility by calling yourself out on your behavior. This will allow you to change course and do something different from that point.

To practice this, spread some Post-It notes around your office or around your home. On each of these, write the word "Notice!". Every time you see one of them, take a moment to notice the baggage you brought in a recent discussion. Write down what you notice and see what patterns emerge for you.

The Impact Of Your Baggage Outside Of Work

We also carry a lot of baggage in our everyday lives.

  • What is the impact of your work day on the time you spend with your kids when you get back home?
  • Are you happy to see them or are you angry at them because of something that happened during the day?
  • What baggage lies behind your impatience with a friend or a loved one that is asking you for help?
  • What baggage do you carry that may be preventing you from asking others for help?

Noticing your baggage is easy! Start by bringing more attention to the things you say and the things you do in everyday life. Have clear intentions in your mind on why you are doing what you are doing. For example, my daughter loves to come chat with me in the morning. Although some mornings her chattiness can drive me crazy, I can see she wants to connect. Noticing this makes it easier for me to push away what I am doing to take the time listen to her. Share and enjoy those moments.

When you notice how your baggage impacts your words or actions, laugh about it and apologize. Making yourself vulnerable by making a joke allows others to see they can talk to you about this. It creates connection with others instead of disconnection. At that point, you can also do a reset on your behavior by trying something else.

In my case, when I realize I am not being attentive to my daughter, I tell her right away. I may ask her for time to complete what I am doing or tell her it is not a good time. She seems to appreciate it because when I give her the time, she knows she has my full attention.

What baggage is most present in your life? How does it impact your motivation, your happiness, your behaviors or your actions? What could be different in your life if you found a way to put some of this baggage away?