There were lots of cars driving by with people getting in and out of them and families with suitcases on wheels who all looked like they had somewhere to be. I didn’t know where I was or how I got there, but I knew I needed help. It was July 10th and I had just flown into LAX from Washington D.C. after a 3-day work trip.
I grabbed my phone and called the last person I talked to – one of my team members. Shortly after, a vaguely familiar face showed up and asked me to follow him to his car. I thought I knew him from somewhere but I couldn’t remember from where or who he was. The next thing I remember, we were in a brightly lit room with a lot of people walking in and out to check up on me. My brain was taking everything in but I couldn’t make sense of anything and I couldn’t respond. I didn’t know it then but my family had been contacted and they were en route from Boston on the earliest flight they could find. My Mom’s face when she entered the ER and said “Andrew, it’s Mom” as I stared blankly and she kept repeating it, will forever be stamped in my brain.
It was about a week until I recalled my name, what company I worked for, and who the strangers by my bedside were – my friends & family. I was diagnosed with Dissociative Amnesia; a condition where the brain separates itself from the person, causing disruptions in memory, consciousness, awareness, and identity. It would be another week until ordering from a menu was an achievable task, telling time made any sense, and a few weeks after that until familiar names became easy to recall.
Upon returning to work, I made the difficult decision to share my personal story with my full team without sparing the details. I felt it important to be transparent with the team I was responsible for leading as I knew this wasn’t going to be something with a quick fix. In fact, this week marks five months and I’m still not who I was before, but I’m getting closer each day.
At our bi-weekly meeting, with my team of 110 in attendance, I could hear a pin drop. They didn’t know it then, but I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to get through the entire story. When the meeting ended, employee after employee came up to me and thanked me for being vulnerable and some even shared personal stories. I had offers to take care of my dog and to lend an ear if I ever wanted to talk.
Being vulnerable isn’t easy and sharing something that can be perceived as a weakness can be unnerving. I’ve learned more about the importance of the team in my current role than any other role I’ve held previously. I’ve learned that meaningful personal connections are critical to a team’s success. I’ve learned that vulnerability often increases trust.
But most importantly, I’ve learned that a leader doesn’t just lead a team – it’s the team that supports the leader to lead, because without the team, there is no leader.