We live and work in an eventful and complex world. One of the most important things I force myself to remember on a daily basis is that not everything is a crisis. Ironically, one of the most important things that I’ve been learning to understand on daily basis is that some things are. More importantly I’m learning to realize that everyone has his or her own stuff going on. I don’t always get to know when there’s a crisis at hand because I’m not always involved in it; thankfully so.
What I do know is that just like me everyone I know is complicated and significant. In fact, I’m quite sure that the ones I don’t know are too. Knowing this along with having significant limitations in the area of mind reading makes compassion an amazingly effective leadership tool for me. When I successfully access my capacity for compassion things seem to work out well (with regard to relationship building and positive progress). When I don’t, they tend not to (with regard to the same).
Like you I’m exceedingly busy all the time. Also like you I’m tired and stretched thin much of the time (hazards of the educational leadership/husband and father gig). In order to consistently remember about compassion in the middle of the mix I have to practice intentionality.
Recently I came across the thought bubble as a great reminder. You know, the thought bubble. It’s a graphic literary device used to indicate thinking and consequently suggest the things that someone is thinking about. Cartoonists draw it above the heads of their characters like a cloud with a bubble tail.
I was recently talking to a partner at school about this. She mentioned seeing a training video in which people were walking around a hospital with thought bubbles above them. Unlike observers in real-time, viewers of this video could see the content of people’s thoughts. Some of the featured people were worried about loved ones in various states of critical medical need while others were concerned about grocery lists. There was even a dog in the video thinking about where he hid that elusive bone. The point of the video is the same as the point of this post. Simply put, everyone has stuff…specifically and often times uniquely important to him or her.
Sometimes we don’t talk about that stuff. In fact, I would venture a guess that most of the time we don’t talk about that stuff. Some of it is pretty personal. Some of it seems beside the point in professional context. Many people decide work through their own stuff while trying hard not to let it impact their professional lives; a legitimate practice. Regardless, it’s there.
Compassionate leadership doesn’t require knowing the content of the thought bubbles belonging to those you serve and those you partner with, but I would argue that consistently remembering that those thought bubbles exist is important. I would further argue (much like many who’ve considered leadership and learning from a theory-to-application paradigm before me) that when we’re thoughtful about individuals’ situations and worldviews we’re better equipped to communicate information and focus on solutions while avoiding the potential relationship and organizational hazards of challenge or ego-based messaging.
If you don’t have your own practice already, give it a shot. Picture thought bubbles above everyone’s head. Don’t worry about what’s in them; just know that they’re there. Think about what’s in your own. Understanding that while it’s more than likely yours is different from anyone else’s it’s also more than likely that everyone else’s matters to him or her much the same way that yours matters to you.
Remember that we’re each as complicated and significant as one another. Understand that while everything is not a crisis, some things are. Realize that we don’t get to know every detail driving the energy of those we serve and partner with. Consider that simply framing our individual and internal thoughts in a context of “important stuff” might be useful in the areas of leadership and learning.
Live. Learn. Lead.
Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.