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Sick days: what losing my voice taught me about leadership

a new post by Kate Means

During the start of the new year, my household learned the hard way that having three kids with exposures at daycare and school means lots of sick time. At the start of February, I caught bronchitis and lost my voice entirely for almost two weeks. I could barely whisper without pain.


I do not consider myself a loud or talkative person, but I use my voice quite a bit.


I am captain and coach for my kids – directing them through getting ready each morning, comforting with words when they get hurt, mitigating conflict among them.


The work I do professionally requires regularly meeting with other people to lead, guide, and direct various activities and events.


Add on to that needing to make phone calls or talk to store clerks, and I spend a fair amount of each day speaking.


I felt well enough to keep up my normal tasks, but the doctor said I needed to save my voice to help it heal, so I had to adjust how I approached my responsibilities.


Each moment was a choice: do I use my voice here or find another option?


When a coworker came to me about a conflict she had with someone else, I asked more questions, listened more intentionally, and gave fewer suggestions. By practicing silence, I prioritized her voice over my own.


When one of my kids became frustrated with their sibling, rather than rushing in to defuse the situation, I decided to step back and watch. To my surprise, they worked it out themselves. Not necessarily as fast as if I had intervened, but they were able to do it. My pausing – watching and waiting – gave them space to practice their skills and build independence.


Since I knew my voice would come back eventually, I began prioritizing which tasks required speaking up, which ones could wait, and which could be taken off the list. Honoring those priorities slowed down the pace of my days, and I was able to carve out time for reading and reflection where I had not before. 


Thanks to time and rest, my voice did come back. Still, when I can, I am incorporating these practices in my day-to-day: Practicing silence, pausing, and prioritizing. Saving my voice created opportunities for listening better, allowing others to lead, and creating time for quiet.


What could saving your voice do for you or your organization?

May you keep listening and learning,



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