The following is a fictional story inspired by true events. All references, real or otherwise, are either products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons or events is purely coincidental.

This post is continued from the first part of Alice and Clay’s conversation.

“I want to ask you something,” Alice said. She pushed her notebook away and shifted in her seat. For the first time since Clay had started to meet with her on a weekly basis, she looked uncomfortable.

Thoughts flashed through Clay’s mind as he tried to keep his best poker face. I’m being fired. Demoted. Maybe it’s a raise. Maybe a promotion! Does she want me off a project? On another one?

“What am I not doing for you that you need me to do?” Alice asked.

Every thought flew out of Clay’s mind.

“Be honest. Find something about my leadership that bothers you.” Alice cleared her throat. “But be constructive, too.”

Clay leaned back, scrambling for a meaningful thought.

“I mean,” he began, “okay.”

The pair sat in silence for a few moments. Then Clay nodded.

“Okay. So, I think one thing that could eventually become frustrating to me — not that it is now, though —”

“I’m not going to get upset, Clay. Just tell me.”

“Right. Um, sometimes when I bring ideas to you, your first reaction is to point out all the problems. Which are almost always valid concerns, but kind of takes away my enthusiasm for the project or whatever. There’s definitely a place for those critiques, but when they come right off the bat, it hurts my creativity and . . . yeah, enthusiasm.”

Alice nodded slowly as Clay talked. Her eyes showed deep concentration as they slipped from meeting his eye contact.

“Yes. I see that. I can see how the way my brain works can come across as a buzzkill.”

“And not that you shoot my ideas down, it’s just that your first reaction sets the tone for the rest of the conversation.”

“Right,” she said to Clay. Her eyes moved back down to the table. “Right.”

Clay waited for the wheels in her head to stop spinning full-speed before asking, “Is there anything I can do differently to help—”

“I appreciate that, Clay, but it’s really on me. Maybe I should talk through what I’m thinking so you understand.”

She sat up a little straighter and returned Clay’s questioning gaze.

“First of all, don’t feel guilty for being honest about that. I asked and you answered. Thank you. Second, I already know a little about that habit — to see problems before anything else. You just helped me put a specific situation to a vague feeling.”

Alice wiped her nose with a tissue before continuing.

“Do you remember talking about the difference between leaders and managers?”

“Yeah: managers push and leaders pull.”

“Something like that. When you told me your perspective just now, I saw that I have been pushing instead of pulling.”

Clay nodded, now connected with her thought process.

“It’s my personality style that wants to analyze, identify problems, and fix them. But it’s my job to empower my people to do that on their own. I know I tend to rely on who I am rather than thinking through what would be best for the whole team. But I didn’t have a clear example of how I do that until you told me. So thank you.”

Clay shook his head with relief.

“I feel like I should be thanking you for being receptive!”

“Well, maybe.” They both chuckled. “But really, if I’m not being vulnerable, I’m not being a good leader. Now I can get better, even if this conversation was tough.”

“And I definitely have things to learn, too,” Clay said. “More stepping outside my comfort zone.”

“That’s right.”

Clay and his supervisor nodded at each other slowly. Clay glanced at his watch.

“Alright.”

Alice smirked. “Got somewhere to be?”

“Just feeling inspired to get back to work!”

“You know, me too.”