Leadership Lessons from Loss

At a dinner conversation at a casual and intimate family-like gathering, the host posed a question to each of us as we passed the salmon and salad. “So, what is one thing you’ve learned about yourself this year?

I was sitting to the host’s left. There was no awkward pause. I didn’t even notice if anyone else had an answer. Words poured out of me as if I had been waiting to answer this question. I dove into the deep end of the emotional pool. I spoke from the most human and most spiritual place. It was as if I needed to get some words out and into the universe, and my friend popped the bubble with his question. I knew everyone at the table was familiar with suffering. Loss is a language each of us know too well.

I began to answer. “The one thing I’ve learned this year is that loss sharpens me. Loss is painful, but it strips life down to reveal what is most important.

Loss causes me to see clearly. Embracing loss helps me let go of the unnecessary and receive the essential. Loss reveals what is most human about me, about us, and about what is really important.

As a person and as a leader, in the face of loss this year, I learned three lessons.

  1. I became more feminine.
  2. It is not about “If” but “How”
  3. Notice and Be Noticed

I Became More Feminine

Maya Angelou was onto something with her poem, Phenomenal Woman.

It’s the fire in my eyes,

And the flash of my teeth,

The swing in my waist,

And the joy in my feet.

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

I have read this poem and shared it with exceptional women all around the world. I celebrate other women and am thankful I am one. But then, there is loss. The scars from breast cancer treatment remind me what I lost. Cancer surgeries and procedures shaped and reshaped me. I’ve stopped counting scars. Physically, I lost the outward appearance of that which categorizes me as female. Somedays I forget about it. Other days when there are check-ups and check-ins, I don’t even remember what I used to look like and feel like. Then, I remember I had a disease, but that disease does not define me. My response to cancer caused me to understand more fully who I am created to be. In today’s battle for identity, I continue to become more of who I am. I became more feminine in “the swing in my waist and joy in my feet” and have felt more deeply than ever. Everyday, I find myself becoming more Linda, more me, and I like it.

Not “If” but “How”

“If, then” logic we learn at an early age. If we eat our veggies, then we can have dessert. If we finish our chores, then we can go outside and play. If we do this, then we get that. Through loss, there is a different mantra.

“If, then” can even become a modern day cop out. Loss happens. Even if we eat healthy, we can still get sick. Even if we save money, hard times can still take everything. Relationships come and go. Things come and go. We should change and grow. Through commitment, there is a different drive and a different logic I’ve learned. It’s not if we do such and such…it is how. How we will work together? How we will be married? How will I come to the table? Brian and I have totaled it up. Our parents have been married for over a hundred years. Fifty plus years of marriage each. They’ve modeled to us the “how” of that commitment. Decade after decade in the ups, downs, and ordinary time, they still show us the importance of being together and hospitality; there is love and forgiveness for all, and the generosity of spirit and resources is necessary.

For me, loss sharpens my focus and my commitment. I am committed. In those commitments, I work adaptively and positively on the “how.” No longer do I try and wiggle on the “if.” It is the only way to grow up into the “how”.

Notice and Be Noticed

When I heard word a mentor, dear friend, and chosen older brother passed away, grief gripped me good. Tears I had been storing up for years starting flowing again. Anguish. We grieved. I emerged different.

At the funeral, one thing became clear. At the heart of what Randy Reese gave to me, was defining words that led to defining moments that woke me up to the woman I am and the vocational invitation on my life. He taught us all to notice and be noticed. The loss of his life birthed new life in many of his loved ones. I’m compelled to carry on the spirit of his life. For Brian and me, Randy Reese has now become a verb. “Let’s ‘Randy Reese’ it.” We stepped into our latest engagement more focused than ever to notice everyone, show gratitude to each person, and speak life into others like Randy did for all of us. We “Randy Reesed” it.

Seeing Strengths in Loss

Though I do not look for loss, it is inevitable.  It is not what we lose, it is when and then we may lose. I choose to embrace loss. I am not defined by it, but I am refined by what it strips away and offers as a gift. Every day, I commit to grow and live more fully alive.

In loss, I look to the Strengths of others rather than my own. In swimming around in the pool of being human, what Strengths do you detect in others?

I have the Strengths of Connectedness, Empathy, Individualization, Strategic and Adaptability. I invite you to do the work of Strengths finding. What Strengths of mine did you hear in these lines? What themes of Strength did you hear pairing together?

What Strengths do you use in times of loss?

Most importantly, what is one thing you’ve learned about yourself this year?