In this blog post I want to share five lesson loss can teach us about how to lead.
In the last year, our family has been impacted by a number of significant losses. Last year, it was my mom. Stage 4 cancer. December it was my aunt-in-law, stage 4 cancer. May, it was another aunt-in-law. Stage 4 cancer.
The amount of losses we’ve had over COVID-19 — none to COVID-19 — have really shaken up our family and brought home some very important lessons.
Before I share the lessons I want you to know that these three women I am talking about were in their late sixties to early 70s. They were beautiful, vibrant. They were anchors in our family, matriarchs. They were women who were community leaders. They opened up their homes to their children, their neighbours’ children, their siblings’ children. Then their grandchildren, then friends — whoever needed refuge.
These women had big dreams that they kept putting off. They were going to travel, but something came up. Then something else came up. Then a graduation, a wedding. Something else kept getting in the way of the things they wanted to do for themselves. One thing after another came up. Then their time came up.
Just yesterday, I was at another funeral, celebrating the life of one of these women. Five months after the second, which was about six months after the first. It struck me that there are so many things we take for granted as leaders. I think death, loss and grief can teach us so much about how we need to lead in this new climate.
While I was at the funeral service, just outside before the repast, I overheard a conversation. In that conversation, two women were talking. One said “I don’t want to go to any more funerals. I’m tired of funerals.” The other responded: “I guess we’ll be coming to yours soon.”
The reality struck me that death is truly an inescapable part of our lives. What can we learn when we think about the lives of people who have been anchors and have left everything that they have behind?
We don’t truly leave everything behind. At the funeral, was a huge community that came out to share, to celebrate, to honour. To show respect. I really think that is what we leave behind, that is our legacy. The people we leave behind, the people we’ve touched. The people that show up to say goodbye, to celebrate us.
As the funeral came to an end and I had a quiet moment, I paused to think about the lessons that we can take away from this funeral. These funerals. I know some of you have had a lot of losses as well. What lessons can we take away and transform into meaningful action for our leadership?
Here are five things I want us to reflect on together. You can add to the list as well, because you may have ideas that I have not thought of.
#1. We must cultivate a culture of gratitude. Everyday that we show up to our jobs, whether we love it or hate it, is a gift. The ability to be frustrated is a gift. These are emotions that we are experiencing, they are a gift. If we can instil that sense of gratitude into ourselves and our people, that is a gift we can leave behind.
#2. Cultivate a culture of well-being. I realized that we really truly have only one body. We need the bodies for our work. We need our body to contribute, to connect. We need these bodies to take care of our children, our families. How do we cultivate a culture of well-being, with the understanding that well-being is key to leaving behind a legacy and enjoy our lives?
How do we unplug from time to time and give our bodies time to recuperate? This is something that I will be intentionally working on. Over the past five or six years I have made myself available via email or phone whenever I am on vacation. I felt that I was being helpful. This year, I want to truly unplug. I want you think about whether or not you are truly unplugging and giving yourself time to refresh, replenish, revitalize.
You need to periodically unplug for better well-being. And you need to create a culture that makes the people you lead comfortable doing so as well.
#3. How do we cultivate of care, of compassion, of empathy, of forgiveness.
We need to learn to give each other some wiggle room, some room to make mistakes. A little room to take risks. A little room to say I’m sorry. A little room to say the wrong thing, and be forgiven. A little room to know the difference between what’s big and meaningful and what’s small and petty.
When we understood the impact of loss, and the value of this wonderful experience called life, then I think we need to spend a little more time cultivating this culture of focusing on the big things and letting the little things to.
Learn to forgive each other, and learn to start over: to reset, refresh.
#4. We need to cultivate more connections and a greater sense of community. We need to belong. We need to build relationships. If we have a lot of relationships, we need to deepen these relationships. Too many people are involved in superficial relationships. I was recently at an event and someone said to me “What a pleasure. What a surprise to be at an event where we weren’t talking about ‘what’s the weather like on your side of town.'”
Can we go deeper to learn about each other’s stories and truly connect? This is who we are. This is why we’re here; to get to know each other. Let’s build community. Let’s show up and support each other. Let’s learn from each other, share tips with each other.
With funerals I see the community that people have left behind. I can meet new people and feel like I’ve know them longer. All because the person that is gone cultivated that sense of community. Unfortunately, the funeral is the first time I am meeting so many people in the community. I want us to think about how we build and interact with our community.
#5. The time is now.
We don’t know what tomorrow brings. Will we be here tomorrow, or just talked about tomorrow? This time calls for bold leadership.
For me to understand that time flies, I only have to talk to my children. I look at them and think, “I just had these children. How can I be talking to these adults now?”
We want to make sure that we are doing the bold things now. We are doing the things that scare us. We are saying the things we want to say, building the relationships we want. We are innovating, connecting, networking. We are doing the things we are thinking about and waiting to do. There will always be something that comes up in our lives. I want to encourage you to step forward — out of this pandemic and out of loss — with a bolder leadership.
What I realize is that the lockdown has pushed people even further into their comfort zones. A few of us are emerging out of our comfort zones, slowly waking up. Others are still sleeping.
Leadership is shifting and asking for more. We have a responsibility to create and that will take high levels of leadership.
I am grateful to be here to share these lessons with you. I am so grateful that I have the opportunity to step into a bolder and bolder leadership. Let us connect with people. Let us deepen the relationships we have. Let’s expand the community we’re apart of. Let us know not just their names, or dates of birth. Let’s learn more about their stories. Let’s move the ball forward and wake up from this pandemic and step into a bolder version of you.
Those are the five lessons I have learned from loss. Let’s build a culture of gratitude. Let’s build a culture of well-being. Let’s build a culture of compassion and forgiveness. Let’s build greater connections. Let’s build our community. Let’s get to know each other at a deeper level.
Now is the time to go boldly where you’ve never gone before. Go out and do the things you always wanted to do. Don’t put it off, because we do not know how much time we have to get it done.
Thank you so much for following us. See you next week, same time, same place.
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