The importance of checking in

Last week was a rough week.

I can be a pretty open book when it comes to my personal and professional life (though I’m not going to delve into the details here). As I shared what I went through, the kindness and encouragement from family, friends, and colleagues helped tremendously.

I proactively sought support from those closest to me. But every other connection spun out from an unrelated call or conversation. Many of you reached out for some other reason, and I felt compelled to share what I was going through before we dove into discussing the intended topic. After all, I wanted to give some context as to what was shaping my current perspective. And the outcome of sharing was helpful: by being honest, I felt supported and “safe” to do work without judgment.

Though what I’ve come to realize is that while I’m open, not everyone is. It’s natural to feel embarrassed and many don’t feel free to bring their personal lives into the workplace because we don’t want to burden others or feel like it’s not “productive.”

However, this is far from the case. In my experience, sharing my story with colleagues brought a deeper connection. I was open about what was going on and we were able to move forward within that context.

This got me thinking about an instance where the board of directors of one of our portfolio companies was disappointed that the CEO was not prioritizing the right things.  What they didn’t realize, and what I found out, was that the CEO was overwhelmed… going through a break up and family illness at the same time. Had there been a “check in”, we could have had productive discussions on how to support the CEO.

Over the past few years, I try to start every conversation with a personal check-in before discussing business. The organizations that we are building and are a part of, are only as strong as the people who are in it.

Perhaps this is a no-brainer given that our business is so relationship driven, but it might serve as a great reminder to all of us. In fact, as Boris wrote earlier this year while inspired by Bill Campbell, great leaders show empathy. So, really ask yourself: when’s the last time that you asked your investor, your portfolio company, your colleague, your partner, your manager, your employees how are they actually doing?

It’s not prying… it’s human touch which can really lift spirits and make someone’s day better (more than you’ll ever know), and inspire productivity. The more we share (regardless of power dynamic: investor-founder, manager-employee, etc.), the more context and perspective we have around the business and better understand why things are moving in a certain direction. And if this exercise seems awkward, you can try personal check-ins with a concept like “Red, Yellow, Green” as indicators of mood (i.e. red = hypersensitive; yellow = a bit on edge; green = calm).

So think about checking in with others, and being open to share your own experiences. And thanks to everyone who put work on hold for a few minutes last week – I really appreciate it.

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