Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of summer in the United States. It’s a weekend of family events and often is associated with hot dogs, the opening of pools, and picnics. Many people may forget the real reason for the holiday. As we enjoy the long weekend, let’s remember those who gave their lives for our freedom.
From baseball games stopping to Amtrak trains sounding a whistle, many organizations will recognize 3PM on Monday as a time to stop for one minute to reflect. Memorial Day also designated by Congress as a time to pray for permanent peace.
Fact: Americans will eat 818 hot dogs per second or 71 million in a day.
Through the younger years of childhood, we successfully diverted the annual dog question. “Not this year, we’re going to take a special trip!” “How about a ping-pong table instead?” “We aren’t home enough to have a pet—it wouldn’t be fair.” “Mommy and Daddy already bought you a gift. You’re going to love it!” Squeals of excitement and distraction. Dog day averted once again.
Be Open to the Unexpected
That’s why it came as a shock to all of us one year when the annual plea was made and I said “maybe.”
WHAT?! Who said that? My husband looked at me as if I had lost my mind. I had and didn’t know why. Seriously, I had no idea why I said “maybe” but now I was in trouble. Three pairs of eyes staring at me with a mix of sheer joy and astonishment. And then the questions. “When can we get it!?” “Can it be a puppy?” “Can I name it?”
“Uh honey, can I speak to you privately?” My husband ushered me out to garage. “What are you doing!?”
“I don’t know but I have a plan.” During the questioning and walk to the garage, I had devised a strategy. We would just go and look. I had to maintain credibility but was certain I could find a way out.
I phoned my friend Rene. Rene had recently assumed the leadership role at a rural animal shelter. “Hey Rene”! Had to be careful here…didn’t want to give her the wrong impression. “You probably don’t have any suitable dogs and I’m not really a dog person but you know…the kids keep asking. I might consider it if you had something in the range of a 2-year old, house-broken, non-shedding, hypo-allergenic, 15-20 pound, special breed, child-friendly dog.” I felt pretty smug and slightly guilty. When Rene said “no” I would just go back and tell the children they didn’t have any dogs this year that would be right for us.
“You know”, said Rene, we don’t get a lot of dogs here with that profile but we have a few that would be perfect for your kids. Bummer. Again, my integrity was at stake. “Can you and your family stop by the shelter tomorrow night?” Moving too fast Rene.
“A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.” –Josh Billings
On the hour drive to the shelter, the excitement increased. The adults weren’t saying much and the kids didn’t stop talking. We arrived at a small, colorful little building and were met by Rene and her friendly team. Secretly hoped it would be dark and smelly but no such luck.
Rene handed us a family questionnaire. Huh. Weren’t we here to look at dogs? We completed the survey with questions like, “Do you want your dog to excitedly greet you and follow you when you arrive at home, greet you and then return to his/her spot or not greet you at all?”
Life’s Greatest Joys Are Not Usually Planned
After our family questionnaire was completed and scored, we were given a color that represented our family temperament. Dogs with the same color were brought out for us to “interview.” We were deemed to be “compatible” with two color groups. Interesting. Maybe we could use this system when we interviewed people for jobs at my company.
Among the canine candidates was Miles the Beagle. My husband had beagles growing up, albeit outdoors. He was cute and I thought “maybe.” Then he hiked his leg on the drywall. Rene saw the horror on my face.
You see, I am an indoor person. I view the outdoors pretty much as the space between two indoor places. “Now don’t let that bother you”, says Rene. Our reception area ‘reads’ as an outdoor space to him because of all the dogs. He probably wouldn’t do that once he was settled in your home.” Just the mere chance was more than I could handle. We passed on Miles. Another few interviewees and I was thinking we were home free. Even the kids were a little put off by Miles’ behavior.
And then Bonita was ushered in. Fifty pounds, shedding, black hair, not sure of her age, rescued from the roadside. Not at all my ideal dog profile. Handed to our son to walk, she stayed right beside him. Stopped when he stopped, walked when he walked, looked up at us all adoringly. She was apparently bi-lingual and responded to commands in English and Spanish. Danger zone. I had to do something.
“The simplest things in God’s creation, even an abandoned dog, speak volumes about love.” -Tammi Spayde
I found myself in shock. Unexpected deaths don’t come with a handbook. You think you’re good at compartmentalizing until an event like this upends your normal routine.
One evening, I went to bed thinking I would be in meetings all the next day. Instead, I was helping with funeral arrangements, making flight reservations, and trying to make sense of it all. My mom asked me to give a eulogy. Since I give speeches all over the world, you would think I could string some sentences together. I couldn’t seem to get it together. Finally, I was inspired and able to honor him in the way I wanted to.
Days later, I found myself reading an autopsy report. We’ve all watched the crime shows. I’m a lawyer and had my share of exposure to evidence and how it all works. It’s so different when it is about someone you love. Reading the cold facts about his body felt like getting pushed underwater in a freezing cold lake—which I thought of, instantly transporting me back to our neighborhood lake where Jack would do that very thing every summer. Dunked, again. Memories flood in like pictures or the sound of his voice so real that I look up.
Jack had a colorful, interesting, crazy and somewhat difficult life. Not until we were adults did we learn Jack had been abused as a kid. Though he never faced the perpetrator in court, others did, and he was locked up. That had a profound effect on him. He struggled with addictions; though he was clear of all of that when he died. Cause of death was perhaps rooted in that past, weakening his heart. I may have read the report, but life and death remains a mystery beyond our current scientific explanation. God still has power beyond man’s ability to understand.
We shared a room together for all of childhood. We shared that room with many others who would stop or stay in our family home. As kids, we shared bunk beds. Jack would lay there at night, asking deep philosophical questions about life. I still hear those questions echo in my mind some nights, as I lie awake.
“A brother shares childhood memories and grown up dreams.” -Anonymous
Jack and I were known as opposites in the family. Others defined us that way, too. It seemed to work for us. My mom always said I was born 50. Jack alternated between 5 and 15 his whole life. I wanted to fit in. Jack wanted to stand out. I looked for answers. Jack asked questions. In those days, Jack would buy 45’s. We were sort of like those albums. I would say Jack was the first and main song, and I was on the back, but that wouldn’t be right because Jack would find the coolest songs no one heard of on the back, flipping it around and sharing it with everyone. He was definitely way cooler.
Though we were very different, we were brothers. Here are just a few of the many lessons I learned from my brother:
Don’t be so quick to judge.
Jack had deep pain. He could irritate you to your limit and then push past that. But, then he would switch to be the kindest person you ever met.
“When we judge, we lose the opportunity to learn from a life different than ours.” -Skip Prichard
A conscious leader is someone who understands that people don’t leave their psychological selves at home when they come into the workplace and that includes the leader. This kind of leader accepts that all human beings are not rational and that our rational minds are constantly influenced by our unconscious motivations, hidden agendas, unresolved childhood issues, fears, anxieties, fantasies, prejudices, obsessions, and complicated emotions like anger and guilt. Conscious leaders understand that what is going on unconsciously, out of awareness, is often more important than what is happening on the surface. They know that the rational mind, both the individual one and the corporate one, can only be strengthened by dealing with unconscious issues, not by pretending that they don’t exist.
Starting with themselves, conscious leaders seek to make what is unconscious conscious. They want to know the whole story about themselves – what emotional baggage they carry, what defenses they habitually use, how others really see them, what their Achilles’ heels are. They are committed to self-development and increasing self-awareness.
Conscious leaders know that in order to create workplaces where people will want to be, they must understand the psychological principles of people at work and apply them daily.
The Power of Honest Feedback
Give us an example of one way a leader can be more conscious.
A leader who is open to honest feedback is going to really know how others see him or her. They may not like what they hear, but they dig down deep in themselves to understand the root of the behavior in question, and then they can begin to fix it. We have a lot of what we refer to as “narcissistic leaders” — probably the same amount that we have always had, but our culture seems to condone and even admire their grandiosity and bravura. When I work with a leader like that, it is usually because the board or some other entity has insisted that this person curtail their behavior. It is not easy for them to change because they cannot believe that their charisma and success aren’t enough.
I worked with someone like this and I knew that underneath the fascinating façade, he was quite damaged, never felt loved for himself from an early age, so he compensated by creating a larger than life self that he believed would be worthy of love. In the coaching, he worked hard to understand how others saw him and how he made them feel. He began to see what good behavior looked like. So although we couldn’t change the structure of his personality at such a late age, he was able to become conscious of what the right behavior would be and he would mimic it.
He is actively engaged in trying to modify his behavior and his impact on others. He uses techniques like active listening to help him have real conversations with his direct reports. He understands that it isn’t “all about me,” and the discipline it takes for him to listen has been rewarded by the input and ideas that are growing his company. He tells me that he reminds himself of his story every two hours!
Understanding How We Deal With Change
What is one commonly misunderstood psychological principle? How does it relate to organizational leadership?
It is generally acknowledged that more change has occurred in the last decade, largely due to the advances of technology, than at any other time in human history. And there appears to be no end in sight. Principle 8 focuses on the fact that change is a constant in every workplace. Whether the change is initiated by a world event, the marketplace, or comes from within, it will require a particular kind of leadership if it is going to be accepted and implemented on both an organizational and individual level.
“All change is loss, and all loss must be mourned.” -Harry Levinson
Our natural, evolutionary response as human beings is to fear change and to resist it. It represents the unknown and unfamiliar and carries with it the possibility that we will suffer harm. Over time, we have learned that change can also be positive and lead to good things. The complete truth about change is that it is always hydra-headed; it is about both winning and losing. In corporate restructuring, for example, change usually results in two groups, those who will win and stay and those who will lose and leave. But it isn’t as simple as that in reality. For even the people who get to stay often talk about how things were before the restructuring because something was gained but something was also lost.
My mentor, Harry Levinson, used to say it this way: “All change is loss, and all loss must be mourned.” When we do not allow for the mourning appropriate to the occurrence, successful change is jeopardized. Mourning seems like a natural thing to do. Think about the crying and other shows of sentimentality at any high school or college graduation. If leaders jump the gun and demand the swift, dispassionate adherence to change, resistance will kick in and there will be corporate consequences. The recent recession brought dire economic consequences to many, accompanied by anxiety, depression, and in some cases, suicide. The extent of the changes that occurred, and the speed with which they happened, did not give people the time and resources they needed to adjust to their drastically altered circumstances.
A swift-moving, action-oriented business model leaves little time for people, whether they are going or staying, to readjust and acclimate to a changed environment. No one is immune and everyone feels vulnerable. The unspoken contract between employer and employee, and the trust that goes with it, are forever broken.
Ken Abraham is an author or co-author of more than 80 books. Regularly appearing on the New York Times best-selling author lists, Ken is known as a master collaborator. He writes with public figures ranging from One Soldier’s Story with Bob Dole to Let’s Roll with Lisa Beamer. Ken and his wife are also good personal friends. His latest book When Your Parent Becomes Your Child is a deviation because instead of writing someone else’s story, Ken writes about his mother’s dementia, and its effect on the family. This moving story is one that will stay with you and give you a better understanding of what millions of families go through as they fight this disease.
Ken, this book is simply beautiful. I may never have met your mom in person, but after reading this book, I most definitely know her. What was it like writing such a personal story as opposed to helping tell someone else’s?
Of all the books I’ve written, When Your Parent Becomes Your Child was the most emotionally difficult book to write, yet oddly enough, it was also the easiest book I’ve ever written. The difficulty stemmed from the subject matter. Watching my mom make the journey through dementia was a heart-wrenching experience. But because I was simply sharing my own thoughts and feeling with readers, the words poured out easily.
In a real sense, I felt that I wasn’t merely writing about my mom, but I was expressing the emotions, questions, and concerns of many other people who could share similar stories, who might say, “That sounds exactly like what I have experienced with Mom or Dad.” My hope is that this book will stimulate conversations within families and encourage hope within the heart of every person who is now grappling with the myriad changes that take place When Your Parent Becomes Your Child.
Your mom suffered with dementia. Let me turn first to a few questions many ask about dementia. Is Alzheimer’s the same as dementia?
It’s not exactly a “chicken and egg” situation, and the lines do get blurry when we begin talking about Alzheimer’s and dementia. Technically, dementia is more of a “catch all” term; there are all sorts of dementias, the most familiar of which is Alzheimer’s.
Vascular dementia, with which my mom suffered, is the second most widely reported form of the disease. The symptoms of both Alzheimer’s and dementia are similar: memory loss, hallucinations, unusual fear, irritability, or suspicions. Hoarding, uncharacteristic use of profanity, inability to follow a conversation or a story, losing track of possessions, confusion over days, dates, or sadly, even diminishing ability to recognize friends or family members. All these can be indications that a loved one is developing dementia.
In my mom’s case, although I’m reluctant to admit it, part of the reason I wasn’t alarmed at her memory lapses was that I was clueless about the possible warning signs of Alzheimer’s. I just thought she was displaying the natural symptoms of aging as she moved into her mid-eighties. Even after she was diagnosed, I remained in denial for several months until my own research convinced me that what her doctor was describing was accurate.