Weirdly enough, what started my train of thought was an email the CEO of a big corporation sent me. It hit me in the heart. I’m paying close attention to a couple of things he said. Maybe you should, too.
For clarity, the email is from an email list. I have no idea how I got on his email list. I can’t even remember reading his emails.
His subject line got my attention: “Special Edition: The Burden on Others.” The sender was Gary Burnison, CEO of Korn Ferry (they seem to be a big consulting firm). He’s clearly “somebody.”
Anyway, he’s writing about having to make staff reductions in his company. They look like a big company with a lot of employees (I didn’t do much research on them).
Bottom line: He is having to fire people because of the economic fallout of the pandemic. The pain is tangible.
“Our company, like so very many others, has had to make excruciating choices. Good people, talented people all over the world are being let go because of the times in which we find ourselves.
“It grieves me.
“As horrible as the burden is, however, it may be good to feel that pain. It reminds us of our shared humanity.”
His phrase “our shared humanity” grabbed my attention.
Further down in his email, he writes:
“At the end of the day, a leader is the steward of the many—not the few. Leaders are forced to make decisions that severely impact the few in order to preserve the many.
“It’s a Sophie’s Choice—but not making the decision is not an option. No decision is still a decision and one we can’t afford in these times.
“A few weeks ago, I thought this pandemic would lead to anger, but when I look around, what I see are grace and dignity—and far more than I ever would have expected. In tough times, you find out who people really are. You see stunning examples of how self-interest truly does give way to shared interest—all the way to selflessness.”
His phrase “a leader is the steward of the many—not the few,” might be one of the most succinct descriptions of the challenge of leadership I’ve heard.
Please note sometimes you are the “many” (those stewarded and protected)…sometimes you are the “few” (those…hmmm…is “sacrificed” the right word?). No one is always in one group.
“No decision is still a decision and one we can’t afford in these times” is also big-time truth. He’s letting us in on the churn of leading in hard times. It’s not easy. It’s not simple. It’s not academic or theoretical. It’s a hard choice with a price for all concerned. I know that price. Maybe, you do, too.
He continues by offering a vision of hope taken from his experience with the California wildfires. Growth comes after the devastation of the wildfire.
He closes his email this way.
“Slowly, with a heavy heart, newfound humility, and grace and dignity, we will turn this page—not to be forgotten, but to be remembered.”
Nicely done Mr. Burnison.
Here’s what I think you should take away from his email.
Now, more than ever, let your humanity show, just as Mr. Burnison does.
If you’re struggling, show it.
If you’re sad, express it.
If you’re confused, say it.
If you’re in pain, voice it.
If you’re numb, reveal it.
If you’re found hope, share it.
Of course, don’t turn this into the emotional equivalent of throwing up on someone’s shoes. Be measured. Pick the appropriate audience. Choose the time.
Exercise intentionality, not freestyle blurting.
We’re drawn to and inspired by humanness. I can’t help but call your attention to my favorite verse from all of scripture:
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14
The Word, Jesus, was “flesh.” Literally “meat.” The actual opposite of a spiritual word. He was a person, divine, and a human living with His people. A profound mystery.
Yet, in his humanity, he revealed his glory.
This is not the time to keep your shields up or to retreat to your emotional bunker. Do your job. Lead. Serve. Produce. Deliver. And, allow your humanity to show. After all, you were created in God’s image. Let it shine.
I couldn’t find Mr. Burnison’s email online, but if you want to read it in full, I’ll forward it to you. Just let me know.
And let me know what’s up with you. I hope you’re doing well.
You can reach me by emailing me at sthomas AT oneicity DOT com
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