Leaders cannot, and should not, be perfect

Leaders cannot, and should not, be perfect

30 November 2021 By Jerome Doraisamy

Allowing your team to see your struggles, and being vulnerable with them, is a critical lesson to learn, said one BigLaw partner.

In a recent episode of The Lawyers Weekly Show, Herbert Smith Freehills partner and India practice chair Chris Parsons (pictured) detailed his long-running battles with depression, in which suicide ideation was a constant presence: “I used to pray I’d be knocked off my bike each morning.” 

“I couldn’t cope with my life,” he explained.

“I was capable of doing absolutely nothing. I spent three months in bed crying. I was beaten into submission, really, and I was willing to get help.

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“Medication saved my life, and continues to save my life. It makes me feel normal. I’ve suffered another four serious depressive episodes [since then], and without [medication], I would still, I think, be really ill today.” 

With hindsight, speaking out is “the best thing I’ve ever done”, Mr Parsons proclaimed.

“I genuinely haven’t regretted, for one second, going public. Talking about it, trying to help people, discussing what organisations can do to support their employees, has become a real driving passion.”

Speaking publicly about his journey, he continued, has become an integral part of who he is. And, if anything, his standing within HSF – and across the legal profession more broadly – has increased as a result of showing his “deep vulnerabilities”, he said.

“My brokenness – of which there is plenty – has resulted in some significant strength. I’m just a more complete human being as a result of suddenly allowing people to see that brokenness.”

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Showcasing those vulnerabilities is a key change that Mr Parsons has made to his leadership style, he outlined.

“That doesn’t mean that I’ve suddenly become a great softie. I’m sure a lot of people would regard me still as a pretty demanding person to work alongside. But what I do try and understand is people at an individual level. And I try and understand each person and their own perspective, their own drivers,” he detailed.

“If you’re willing as a leader to show you vulnerability, it’s amazing how you give permission to others to be willing to share their struggles and things. In that way, you’re helping them because they’re recognising you don’t need to be perfect. They can see that it’s all right to struggle from time to time.”

Being vulnerable not only gives permission to others to also be vulnerable, Mr Parsons advised, it also “results in a really deep connection”.

“What I’ve found is that I really know a lot of the people that I work with at a completely different level from the level that I used to know them at. And that means that I, together with them, can achieve so much more than I could alone, and if I didn’t really understand what was going on with them, and if they didn’t really understand what was going on with me. And through that, I hope that I’ve been really able to help and support people, and I hope, been able to generate a really great deal of loyalty.”

Help is available via Lifeline on 13 11 14 and Beyond Blue at 1300 22 4636. Each law society and bar association lists available resources on their respective websites.

The transcript of this podcast episode was slightly edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full conversation with Chris Parsons, click below:

Leaders cannot, and should not, be perfect
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