Sometimes Leadership is Showing Up
Sometimes leaders do what they dread because they know they must show up in the dark places and be the light for others. It's easy for anyone to be present or even join in raucously when the banner is flying, energy is pumping, and smiles are wide with euphoria. True tests of leadership exist in the spaces less desirable. The temptation to check out of the ugly experiences of life can be great, thinking that maybe nobody will notice because the spotlight rarely shines in the more challenging spaces to which leaders are called. In fact, our most austere moments as leaders often evolve from the choice to show up where many would honestly rather not. But we do. And that's what separates us.
Today, I shared an experience with other such leaders who dared to enter into the darkness of a family's grief. The funeral of a former student. And it never gets easier. In fact, I would venture to say that with my advancing age comes the experience of multiple losses, and while that may callous some, I have found each experience to layer on top of one another so that each new collection of moments serves as a trigger for the previous. However, each opportunity to bring the light in these dark spaces also reminds me why it is crucial that leaders are present and what an honor it truly is to share the poignant space of fresh grief. In these situations, there is always a parent or a sibling that just needs a warm, firm hug. A reassuring message in a card for later. Affirmation that their loved one's life mattered. An ear to hear the memories that play on the reel of a loved ones mind. And I can be there to do that every time. And I will.
What I hope is that the families remember the extra long, tight hug and carefully worded questions to elicit their stories. The smile and even laughter I absolutely and intentionally choose to bring with me. Because I have needed it when I was the one greeting others in this dark space. I hope that my calming presence can serve as a balm, even as I struggle with my own grief in these moments. Because leadership matters in the light and the dark, but it shines brightest within the shadows for those who need it the most.
As I headed out today, I shook the hand of the pastor who delivered the sermon and the funeral director. Two leaders who serve families in these spaces in ways that feel braver than I could ever be. It had never occurred to me before to thank them for their service before, and it serves as just another example of where leadership exists in the spaces we don't always see illuminated.
Maybe I make too much of the simple act of showing up, but I firmly believe that building a legacy is made in these moments where many choose not to venture.
And you can bet that when my daughter called me back into her room and proceeded to interrupt me as I was writing this FIVE times (and counting) that I stopped to hug her. Every. Single. Time. In the words of a former staff member today, "Go home and hug your kids tightly and don't take it for granted."
Leaders: show up in the dark spaces and remember the wisdom you gain in them every day, never allowing the opportunity for what might be the last hug to envelop you. And shake the hand of the officiant and funeral director. Leadership appears in many forms. Let's be brave enough to be present enough to notice.
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