The views and opinions expressed are mine personally and are not necessarily representative of current or former employers.
Brokenness in Leadership
I finished my keynote presentation for the New York HIMSS chapter and surrendered the stage back to my host. With Yankee Stadium as the backdrop, the entire day’s event had been spectacular.
Lit, I spoke about customer service. I had no intention of sharing a Top 10 list of things you could replicate in your organization to create a culture of customer service. Rather I aimed to pierce the hearts and souls of each and every person listening. If I pierced hearts, leaders might be transformed and the Top 10 action items would be created and owned by them.
I shared real stories how hearts were pierced – mine and others. Pierced hearts drove us to create, design, and deliver superior customer service, and in turn, improve clinical and business outcomes. It is one big ecosystem, I suspect, a softened heart that beats to serve and changes culture which improves outcomes. The cycle begins with brokenness.
Leaders approached me at the reception with tears in their eyes. Tears glistening on his cheeks, a battle-tested CEO shared how he never cried. But there he stood. Pierced. Changed.
One by one they stood in line, sharing how their worlds got rocked. The big question was, how could I be vulnerable to my teams, let alone strangers? How could I display raw emotion while recounting core-shaking stories? How could they get in touch with themselves at that level and with transparency?
Those are deep questions and I am not sure I have the answer. Perhaps part of the answer involves brokenness. I realize I am a broken person. I have failed as much as I have succeeded. I have been challenged in life and career. I have struggled with work, I have struggled with sport, I have struggled with kids, I have struggled with marriage. I have hit rock bottom. Hard.
I know I am weak. I also know on my own there is no way up. I am a grateful survivor. I realize the gap between my brokenness and my recovery is filled by grace. If karma is real, I am in big trouble. Really big trouble. Grace is my new BFF.
Some are too prideful to admit weakness and resist brokenness. We compete to be better than the pack and hide behind façades. We are pretenders. In pain. We don’t let others see or touch it. In fact, we bully others who show weakness. We resort to over-medication, legally or otherwise.
Ideally, we realize the need to get real and accept our brokenness. Perhaps acceptance is the start. We embrace brokenness as something bigger than ourselves. Acceptance creates capacity for gratefulness. I sometimes tear up because I am so thankful to others. I recognize that my accomplishments are not about me, but because of others.
I also learned compassion and empathy growing up. The youngest of seven, I spent significant time with my mother alone and bonded tightly. Mom suffered her entire life with chronic illness as I watched her deal with pain with a brave face. She was a servant who loved her kids and husband. Days before she traded her earthly rags for robes of righteousness, we talked about it. Why did God allow her to suffer so long? Why was such a great woman taken so early and cruelly?
We never realized the answer, but at the end I whispered in her ear that her quiver full of successful kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids was a testimony of her significant legacy. In her suffering we observed grace and learned empathy. My heart pierced multiple times in her journey.
As I gained experience serving in hospitals, I began to see patients in the normal course of work. Here I was, healthy, while around me was sickness and death. As an anesthesia tech, I assisted in many procedures, including the harvesting of organs. I watched parents surrender their child’s body to medicine in hopes a tragic suicide would bring life to others they could never know.
I passed gurneys that seemed empty except for the body hidden underneath drapes. I experienced poignant reminders that life is fragile. I understood my service was to make people well while also ensuring the dignity of death. Even as I write this, my mind is full of memories. How can I not cry?
Leadership. Through life and circumstances, we become hardened. Work can be tough and family tougher. Life happens. Even the most supple arteries get clogged. Yet to be effective, our hearts must remain pliable and soft.
For me, volunteering weekly in hospitals keeps my heart pure and the blood flowing. Seeing sick children in particular touches me. I regularly shadow clinicians and hide tears. Patients. I have to see patients. They pierce my heart. They re-orient my focus.
As leaders, we must remain vulnerable and transparent. We must demonstrate that it is OK to cry. Emotions are strength, not weakness.
Demonstrate brokenness. Become a vehicle of mercy and grace to others. Once you embrace your brokenness, you are able to lead others through theirs.