Leadership and the Healing the Injured

Over the past two weeks, I had the honor of extensive conversation with two girls, both in the ninth grade. Both seemed strong. Both had authenticity and wisdom. Both seemed headed to a bright future.

In the first conversation, I asked the young woman to tell me about her life in school. Our conversation had been full of optimism. Now she paused, and with tears in her eyes, she said, “It is so mean out there.”

On the one hand, the statement was not news. I recognize the callousness of modern culture. On the other hand, the statement penetrated my soul. For some reason, I could see her life and feel her pain. It seemed unfair.

A week later I was with the second young woman, and we were having a very similar conversation.  She also described her daily life, and she also paused. She said, “It is very lonely, the kids at school do not believe there is good in the world, they do not have hope.”

I have been thinking about meanness and hopelessness. In recent times, several executives have described meetings in which middle managers responded to a senior leader with unusual, negative pushback. Often the topic had to do with returning to work, with life balance, or similar issues. It seems that people struggle to even think of returning to the workplace and the associated, life depleting patterns.

I received an email from a colleague who does research and teaching in positive organizational scholarship. She wrote of other colleagues, who teach in the same area, reporting unusually negative reactions from their audiences. She wrote of discouraged people and patterns of incivility. She posited possible explanations such as the pandemic, social injustices, political differences, environmental issues, international conflicts, and global problems with mental health. She wondered how to best communicate and bring hope to such audiences.

My wife and I invited two wonderful, mid-career, single women to dinner. As they shared their lives, we listened and asked questions. Eventually both women were in tears. They expressed deep loneliness. The pain was stunning. Both declared that they had not previously expressed their feelings.

In considering the pain in the world, particularly in the corporate world, my temptation is to move to the logical mind, analyze, and suggest policies that will change things. My intuition suggests an alternative that challenges conventional logic.

My suggestion to myself, and to every teen, parent, teacher, manager, or executive is to listen. Listen as never before.  Hear each individual voice. Feel the individual and collective loneliness. Live in the pain until a new vision forms.  See the common good. Sacrifice for the common good. Make some change inside your zone of control. Breathe in the pain and breathe out some form of love. I believe that doing so will lead to the crumbling of some silo, to the healing of some person or persons, it will lead to the sense that you are a leader with expanding consciousness and capacity.

Reflection

  • Are you carrying pain? Are the people around you carrying pain? What does pain do to the capacity to perform?
  • Do you help others say what they have not been able to say?
  • Do you listen and feel the common pain? Do you see a vision of the common good? Do you transcend ego in service of the common good? Are you a leader who breathes in pain and breathes out love?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

 

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