Driving home after dropping the kids off at school this morning, I passed a tall, familiar face in a Navy working uniform. Wearing his backpack as he does most mornings on the way to his office, he looked up and extended a wave and a warm smile. I began to tear up a bit, remembering his tone and introspection from the first and only time we’ve spoken, thinking about the last time I worked with a leader of his caliber and character. My tears were an instinctive reaction to the contrast of those memories with the changes looming ahead for our great nation.
It’s true that different jobs, situations, and personnel require different kinds of personalities, different kinds of leaders. A hospice nurse and a drill sergeant, for example, might not be the best people to swap jobs for a day. HOWEVER, it is entirely possible for one human being to have the capacity to perform both jobs as long as they knew what was required of them in each position and were able to perform their duties as designed (not just ‘assigned’).
Deciding what kind of leader you will be and what pieces of your self you would bring to each job every day would take emotional intelligence, self-awareness, and ultimately, compassion. For example:
To be an excellent drill sergeant requires more than a harsh, loud, persistent presence. You must be able to put yourself in the shoes of those you serve and who, in the moment, serve you. You don’t give commands simply to command. You understand that these individuals are counting on you to break them down and build them back up into stronger, more capable individuals. Do this right and they go from hating you to appreciating you for having put them on the path to success.
To be an outstanding hospice nurse requires more than medical knowledge and a calm demeanor. You must be able to put yourself in the shoes of your patients and their families. You understand they deserve kind and dignified care as you might want for yourself at the end of your own life. You respect the difficult time they are going through and don’t judge them in their grieving process. Do this right and when a patient in your care passes, a family feels comforted knowing their loved one was well-cared for and relieved that they did not have to carry the responsibility of care on their own.
As I reflect on the kinds of leaders I worked with in my career, each one was very different and made an indelible impression on me – some good, others bad. But the common thread among the BEST of them was their ability to humble themselves when necessary and take the time to put themselves in the shoes of others, resulting in appropriate, often swift, and effective actions.
As we move into these next four years as a nation, I know it will be difficult for some of us to extend compassion to some of the leaders making their way into office. I will be right there with you so trust me, I don’t judge. But it doesn’t mean we should not try to be compassionate leaders ourselves – at work, at home, and in our communities. The divide only exists if we continue to repel others we don’t agree with or understand. To find common ground and move forward as a nation, we need to be open to putting ourselves in each others’ shoes. It is what every respectable leader I know has done in their tenure, and it’s what every responsible American should try to do in their lifetimes. We need that now more than ever.