We learned not long ago that a dear family friend, Rachel, had taken her own life.
The news, as you might imagine, was immediately shocking and devastating to all who knew and loved her – a married woman who’d devoted much of her life to raising her son and daughter and seeing them both graduate from college.
What struck me over the subsequent days leading up to Rachel’s funeral was how her circle of friends tapped into some special energy reserve to immediately support her grieving family. Contending with their own feelings of profound loss and sorrow, they rapidly mobilized.
Collectively and thoughtfully, they took full responsibility for planning a celebration of Rachel’s life. They selected her favorite park – with its sweeping view of the Pacific Ocean – and decorated the site with exquisite flowers and multi-colored balloons. Just a few days after Rachel’s death, they delivered moving and heartfelt eulogies and performed some of her favorite songs. To conclude the ceremony, they released white doves into the summer sky – a symbol of peace and deliverance.
This and so much more was done by Rachel’s friends to elevate her family’s spirits. This is what friends do in times of crisis, of course, and they executed magnificently.
Yet of all the acts of remarkable kindness and generosity that occurred after Rachel’s death, one struck me as being most extraordinary. Ironically, it was made by someone outside of Rachel’s group of friends – someone who had never met her.
Rachel’s twenty-four-year-old daughter, Theresa, was three-thousand miles away from home in New York when she learned about her mother’s death. As a meeting planner, she and a colleague, Tom, were preparing to manage an important event when her father called with the horrible news.
Upon hearing the news himself, Theresa’s boss, Jonathan, realized that Theresa had no family in New York and would be making the trek home without any comfort or support. To remedy this, Jonathan told Tom to drop all he was doing – he promised to send other people to handle the next night’s event – and asked him to accompany Theresa all the way to California. Jonathan then insisted Tom not let Theresa out of his care until he “was able to put Theresa directly into the arms of her father.”
Under such circumstances, this was a stunning managerial act. Conceived in his heart, this compassionate decision conveyed not just a deep concern for Theresa as an employee, but as a human being.
In the past few days, we have seen at Penn State University how a single-minded focus (sustaining the performance of a highly profitable football program) blinded coaches and administrators from acting in accordance with what was most important and right. The reputations of this school and its leadership will be forever tarnished because of it.
When it’s least expected, every leader will face their own moment-of-truth — and it will define them too. My advice to you when this moment comes: consult not just your mind but also your heart when considering your course of action. Your informed heart, I believe, will ensure you execute brilliantly.
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