June 17, 2015 was a sad day in American history, with the slaying of nine members of the Charleston community as a result of a gunman at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. While each family mourns the loss of their loved ones, the rest of the country struggles with the questions that remain from the tragedy, including a question of ongoing racism and segregation in our country.
Members of the black community have mentioned in news articles that other races cannot understand what they endure. I used to think that if I did not make decisions based on socioeconomic issues, then I was not acting in a discriminatory manner. Through others, I have realized that there are so many behavioral and emotional choices that I make each day due to my own socioeconomic status and I cannot duplicate the emotional reaction that those choices evoke in someone else.
As a member of my community, I have struggled with what I can do to help. With the guidance of leaders in my community, I have come to realize that the first, most necessary action we can take to help in the struggle, is show compassion.
Compassion is defined as a response to the suffering of others that motivates a desire to help. The word is derived from a Latin word with the meaning to love together with.
Compassion is comprised of the word compass. Do you remember using a compass in middle school math class? A compass is a tool that draws circles or arcs by adjusting the radius between two points and is utilized in mathematics and navigation. To use the tool, you place the end of a tool on one point and the other end of the tool on the other point and the compass determines the connection in between the two points. That is what compassion is—a connection between two points that navigates your actions.
While you may not be able to understand how those in your community are suffering, stay emotionally connected to your community and respond with compassion when they hurt. Take the lead and find the connection between two entities in your community, show compassion, and use the connections and your compassion to navigate your actions.
Executive Search Manager
In my last blog, I wrote about cognitive dissonance and intended to follow up on this topic in my next blog. However, today, I want to talk to you about something else.
On March 24th, my father passed away. I received the phone call at work. After the call, I sat at my desk in a state of shock and was slowly getting my things together to leave when I realized that I needed to let my co-workers know what happened, that I would be leaving, and that I would be out for a while to travel to Mississippi for the funeral. I went in to see Judy, our Finance Manager, to let her know. When I opened my mouth to speak, I felt an odd paralysis come over me and I couldn’t get the words out—I just broke down. If you haven’t been in this situation before it is difficult to explain the level of raw emotion that overtakes you and to have to experience it (the brunt of it, when the knowledge is just hitting you) in front of co-workers was, for me, overwhelming.
Judy, who some of us refer to as Mom because she really has been our “Office Mom,” responded in a way that I will never forget. She immediately got up, came up to me, and held me. She even did that rocking thing that all great moms do while she held me. It was exactly what I needed in that moment…when language failed me, and when no one could have said anything to soften the blow.
This simple act of kindness was just the first in a series of kind acts by my co-workers and supervisors in the days that followed. They have shown such understanding and compassion during this time. While I was with my family grieving, planning a funeral, going through the stuff my dad left behind (which was considerable—he was a hoarder), trying to offer support to my siblings, my work family was there for me. My co-workers Heather and Melissa, in particular, reached out to me daily to see how I was doing, if I needed anything, and to offer comforting words.
I’m very focused on my work and I’m lucky that I can do work away from the office when I need to. It was important for me to maintain a shred of normalcy during this time by doing work when I could but in all my communications with my boss, I was told “Don’t worry about work. Tell us what YOU NEED.” I don’t know how many managers say this to grieving employees but I’m so glad that I have a manager who said it; these are the best words you can hear from an employer when you are grieving. Sometimes it is hard for me to turn my work-brain off, and I haven’t totally in the last couple of weeks, but just knowing that I could and that I had this extended family at my job supporting me took away that extra stress that I know a lot of people feel in this situation, when they know they’ve only got a few days to grieve before they have to return to work and try to be normal again.
The problem many employees face when they experience loss is that they are often not given the time to adjust to the new normal that we all have to adjust to after a loss. Nancy Sherman, LICSW, director of bereavement for Hospice of the North Shore, has said “Grief is not something that people can turn off and on. When they are feeling it, they feel it. And with working adults spending more than half their waking hours at work, it’s not surprising that when grief affects them, it affects their work as well.” It is so important for managers to be aware of and sensitive to this because it’s a quality of life issue for a bereaved employee and it can affect productivity.
It is a difficult situation to find yourself in as a manager. There are projects and daily tasks that still have to be done, deadlines that have to be met, but what you have to realize is that an employee’s work life and personal life are interdependent. If they’ve experienced a deep hurt in their personal life, it can have a significant impact on their work life. And the grieving process is a weird, wild ride that doesn’t end when they return to work.
What can you do as a leader to help your employees when they experience a loss and how can you help them cope with their grief once they return to work? Ask them what THEY NEED. Maybe they need more leave time. Or counseling. Do what you can for them. Be flexible. Offer encouragement. Be understanding. A great leader is an empathetic leader and the act of empathizing is an exercise in trust-building and will strengthen your team. To quote Neil Gaiman, “Empathy is a tool for building people into groups, for allowing us to function as more than self-obsessed individuals.”
I was thirteen when my infatuation with To Kill a Mockingbird began. Since then, I have read the novel countless times – Harper Lee’s words are often comforting, like an old friend.
This past Tuesday, Harper Lee announced the upcoming release of a sequel to her classic Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Set for release this summer, Go Set a Watchman was reportedly written prior to the original novel, and includes the same characters twenty years after the events in To Kill a Mockingbird. The news surrounding this announcement brought back fond memories and lessons learned about the mockingbirds in our lives.
Set during the Great Depression when the South was plagued by racism, classism, and prejudice, To Kill a Mockingbird is told through the eyes of a young girl named Scout. The story follows three children and their obsession with a reclusive neighbor named Boo Radley, whom they have never met. During this time, the community is beset with a racially plagued trial in which Scout’s father, Atticus, is the defense attorney for a black male accused of raping a white woman.
As the reader is guided through the difficult topics of rape and racial injustice, the book tackles social laws and community codes. Throughout the novel, Harper Lee uses a mockingbird to symbolize innocence, as represented by the following passage:
“I’d rather you shot at tin cans in the back yard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”
That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it.
“Your father’s right,” she said. “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”
During the climax of the novel, Scout and her brother are attacked by the vengeful father of the young woman who falsely made accusations of rape. The children are saved by their reclusive neighbor, Boo Radley, who eventually kills their attacker. Recognizing that it would be more of a sin to arrest someone who was helping save children, the local sheriff decides that the attacker was not killed by Boo Radley; instead, noting that the attacker must have fallen on his knife. When Atticus asked if Scout could understand the decision, she said “Well, it’d be sort of like shootin’ a mockingbird, wouldn’t it?”
From the innocent perspective of a child, the reader learns to be a better neighbor, citizen, parent, and leader. Mockingbirds symbolize the intangible qualities and values that we want to define our organizations and communities (Tweet This). Leaders recognize those opportunities when sacrificing an acceptable decision, policy, or norm helps protect the greater good. At times, it may be against policy to waive fees for someone financially incapable of paying the fee; allowing code violations to continue for an elderly person who needs more time to correct the problem, or to allow an employee to be unproductive during a time of personal loss. While these examples are very trite, there are times when a leader needs to make a decision that benefits the greater good even though it might not be what policy states. Examples of community mockingbirds appear daily as some examples are very small and can be solved by the leader being passive aggressive about tackling an issue or complaint while others are more visible and require the leader to intentionally and publicly address the deviation from public policy. Either silently or publicly, protecting the mockingbird occurs when the foundational values for the community would be eroded by following policy.
What are mockingbirds in your community?
Executive Search Manager