19 April 2023 |

Andi Owen’s Viral Moment: A More Compassionate Look at Leadership Missteps



Andi Owen, CEO of furniture company MillerKnoll, is having a viral moment. During an all-hands call, she shared a story about an old boss who taught her that “It’s okay to visit pity city, but you can’t stay there.” Media outlets are now criticizing her for being insensitive. Let’s take a closer look at the situation from her perspective instead of just bashing her.

The Situation

For those not in the loop, just search Andi Owen, and you’ll find plenty of headlines tearing her apart. Yes, her comment was insensitive, but this also shows how the media loves to pounce on leaders for their missteps.

Here is the video for anyone who hasn’t had a chance to watch it yet.

Here’s what we know:

  • Sales at MillerKnoll were down 4%, and orders were down 19% in Q1 2023 compared to Q1 2022
  • Her team is worried they won’t get a bonus

Being the CEO of a huge organization means carrying this weight while keeping the ship afloat. It’s a damn hard job.

As most of you know, most employees only see the tip of the iceberg of what’s happening in an organization. For better or worse, leaders often take a lot of baggage with them to bed each night. Sometimes they do so as a method of self preservation, and sometimes in an attempt to help their teams stay focused on the tasks at hand. 

No matter how much support and development you get, being a CEO is a tough job. You get none of the credit and all of the blame.

My Perspective

Leaders need to be more intentional than ever about how they present themselves as living in a virtual world makes it easy for all communication to end up being shared with the world. 

Owen was trying to give a motivational speech, encouraging her team to focus on the things in their control, but her tone and body language shifted midway through the call.

Had she taken the approach of leading with empathy, reminding her team that she understood the financial impact of not receiving bonuses and that she had their back, the vibe of this call would have been much different.

Next Thursday, I’m hosting a free event focused on helping you set the stage for effective communication. I’d love to see you there.

Leaders make their teams feel seen and safe. In order to do that, leaders have to be aware of their mindset going into every conversation because moments like these will quickly damage trust. 

What Andi Should Have Done

The media frenzy around Andi’s comment is harsh, but she could have handled the situation better. As a leader, it’s essential to choose your words wisely, be empathetic, and understand how your emotions impact how you deliver your message, especially during tough times.

Snickers used to run a commercial with the catchphrase, “You aren’t yourself when you are hungry.” It would show extremely grouchy characters completely transformed after taking a bite of a Snickers. The commercials stood out because they are relatable. We’ve all had those moments where we become hangry. 

The same is true of our emotions. When stressed, anxious, or angry, we communicate and have different body language. It’s our job as leaders to ensure we understand how we are feeling before responding to a situation, especially when speaking to a large group.

We are all human, and we will all have moments where we say things in a way we don’t mean to. The key is to learn from these moments and grow. The better you understand what will make you upset, the easier it will be for you to mentally prepare yourself to respond in a way aligned with your goals and values instead of reacting based on emotions.

Another best practice for you to steal is to learn how your body responds to emotions. For example, what does your body do when you get angry or irritated? Does your face turn red? Do you tense up? Do you start sweating? 

Self-awareness comes from understanding these cues. 

What do you think? I’d love to know