Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Leadership Reminders From a Torn Achilles

       One of my favorite songs by Lou Reed is "Sick of You." I'm sure I'm thinking of it right now because after almost four weeks, I'm absolutely sick of dealing with things having to do with my ruptured Achilles tendon. In the song Reed gives a long list of cultural issues that disgust him; and I could do the same about my situation, but I try never to be a whiner. Instead, I try to keep in mind one particular lyric from the song: "They say the bad makes the good / and there's something to be learned / in every human experience." Adopting that mindset, I've been strongly reminded of three key leadership ideals in the form of metaphors.

  • We frequently hear about the idea of leaning into discomfort. When one is truly leading, as much joy as there can be, there is always a degree of discomfort. Because of the heavy boot I wear 24 hours a day and the need to keep my foot elevated, I'm always in some physical discomfort, and I twist myself into some yoga-like positions seeking relief. It comes to varying degrees and lasts only for a while. But I have to endure it as part of my treatment.
  • I've had to cede some control, even beyond not being able to drive when I never like being a passenger. I know it's weird, but I enjoy cleaning the kitchen and loading the dishwasher, mainly because those tasks are among the few things in my life that have a definite completion and satisfaction point. Plus I like to load things in the dishwasher a certain way. (I know what you're thinking...) But now other people are putting stuff in there, in places I wouldn't. Lo and behold, the stuff is coming out just as clean.
  • It's a daily reminder to take the long view, let the process unfold, and celebrate the little victories along the way. I've been told total recovery is six months before I can resume full activity. Yet I was thrilled when I could once again wiggle my toes after about two weeks. Still, I have to learn not to push things. At my first post-surgery check, the doctor said I had twice as much flexibility as usual at that point and I may get in a walking boot sooner than planned. Being the over-achiever, I asked if there were any exercises I could do to ensure that happening. The doctor smiled and simply said, "No. Let things heal."
       The Achilles tendon, of course, is named after the great Greek hero Achilles, who slay Hector outside the gates of Troy. He was invulnerable except for that one small spot in his heel, and he eventually died from a wound caused by an arrow. From that we have the term Achilles' heel, meaning a person's weak spot.
       And we all have them, just as we have our strengths. The challenge lies not in ignoring or even trying to eliminate our weaknesses. That's impossible--and I'd say even undesirable, as they are part of what makes us human. What really matters is how we cope with them, particularly in times of high stress. If we do that right, not only do we survive the situation, but we can learn and grow from it and become even stronger, as people and as leaders. I hope this post serves as a reminder of that, just in a much less physically painful way than I got it.

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