Is It Too Late To Help?

Right before the holiday break, I had the opportunity to connect with two facilitators. They shared with me a compelling story of leadership and teamwork that I thought provided an insightful metaphor for leadership as we go into the new year. I’d like to share it with you. I’ve changed the names out of respect for their story but the rest of it is as they told it… or at least how I heard it on the receiving end.

Over the course of the last few months, Stacey and Dennis were struggling with a working relationship with one of their team members. Stacey, the team leader and Dennis, the team member, agreed that their third team member, Trisha was just not a good team fit. She did not follow up timely on deliverables, she did not seem excited or engaged about the work of the team and as a result of her passivity, Stacey and Dennis ended up taking the lion’s share of the workload.  As the team leader, Stacey had had many Courageous Conversations with Trisha and was at a breaking point. She had not seen the behavior change she was hoping for and ultimately had given up. She was riding out the last few weeks of Trisha’s performance improvement plan where the inevitable next step would be for Trisha to move on to another team and possibly another organization.

Stacey and Dennis spent one morning decorating their team “door” for the holiday competition at their office. They had ribbon and wrapping paper strung out across the floor of the training department and were bickering back and forth about what end was up and what went where. It occurred to Dennis that maybe they should be including Trisha in the holiday festivities with their team. He asked Stacey about inviting Trisha to participate but she shrugged off Dennis’s suggestion. Dennis, with a Christmas bow in hand, stopped Stacey and said, “Look, she is still a part of our team. Do you really believe you are role-modeling good leadership right now by not inviting her to participate?”


Stacey took a step back and gathered her thoughts, aware now that she was not Personifying Leadership, she decided Dennis was right. She went over to Trisha’s desk and asked her to join them in the holiday decorating festivities if she was interested. Trisha said she would think about it. Satisfied that she had done her part, Stacey accepted Trisha’s response and went back to tackling the holiday door decorating with Dennis.

At this point, Dennis found himself upon a footstool, trying to reach the top of the door while taking direction from Stacey. “I think you need to angle it more this way.” Stacey added, and Dennis tried once again to get the paper to line up just right with the door. Both Stacey and Dennis were surprised when Trisha stepped up and asked “Is it too late to help?” Both Stacey and Dennis stepped back and let Trisha take over. In a matter of minutes she went to work and their department door was beautifully decorated in sliver and blue wrapping paper with a white bow. Stacey and Dennis were both amazed at Trisha’s ability to pull it together so easily. Later as Dennis recounted this story to me over dinner, he shared “Clearly this was her strength and our team needed her strength.”


Teams are never easy and certainly Personifying Leadership is not easy either. Listening to this story I was reminded by both the difficulty of leadership and the possibility. It is never too late to step up and try again, even when the past has been fraught with challenges. You just never know what one more positive gesture will get you.


As we go into the new year, remember it is never too late. We are being given 365 new days to write our own stories of what it means to Personify Leadership.

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