Have you ever had a moment when your personal hypocrisy rose like a dragon from the mist of your mind, slashing and scorching those around you. Inside your head, you’re screaming “This isn’t who I am!”
But it is.
I did . . . again . . . yesterday.
The irony is biting. I had just completed delivering a three-hour program, Turning Conflict Around: Maximizing Moments of Leadership at the National League of Cities City Summit in Pittsburgh. Sixty-plus elected municipal officials from around the country (including some old friends) were in attendance. We struggled together, laughed together and learned together. They seemed both to enjoy and to value the experience.
Part of the content of this course is a concept I have been teaching leaders for more than a decade: QTIP. That is, Quit Taking It Personally.
Over the years, I’ve learned several powerful ways to drive the idea and its value home. I think they are some of the more memorable moments of my presentation, and the message always stands out as one of the key takeaways for attendees.
Fresh from encouraging our municipal leaders to learn not to let others control their emotions, not to take even personal attacks personally, I reacted, rudely and unprofessionally, to a conversation with another conference attendee.
Yup. I blew my witness, as my friends in ministry say.
It wasn’t even a situation where what was being said was a personal attack. The conversation wasn’t about me, and the strong opinions being expressed weren’t even opinions with which I was in total disagreement.
In other words, I had no excuse at all . . . not that having an excuse should matter.
Reflecting back, I’ve come to realize that the driving emotion that fueled my dragon fire is grief, an old and all-too-familiar companion. Grief is among the most potent and persistent of human emotions, and one we Westerners will do anything to dismiss. Suffer a major loss? In a couple of weeks, nearly everyone around you will be seeking reassurance that it’s over, that things are fine now, and that we can go back to normal.
Only that’s not the way grief works.
What I’m grieving is the division in this country that, to be completely fair, has been fueled by inflammatory remarks by candidates and campaign advisors and by incendiary campaign tactics on both sides. There’s plenty of guilt to go around on this. Given the characteristics of my family, many of the worst comments and some of the least desirable policies have, would have, or will affect my children and grandchildren directly. Both sides in the recent campaign have thrown firebombs their way.
So I’ve been grieving what they have experienced, and what they may experience. And while I’ve tried to claim, as Carly Simon once did, that I haven’t got time for the pain, the pain, alas, is making time for me.
So, failing to deal with me, I dealt a crude blow to someone else.
One phrase surfaced out of my subsequent meditations, one that might be a useful refrain in the post-2016-election era.
You see, I think I often believe it is enough to be right. I try to get things right in this blog, and in the decisions I make as a parent and grandparent, and in designing my training programs, and so on. It isn’t done until it’s right; I’m a bit of a perfectionist (a bit?) that way.
But I realized yesterday that being right isn’t enough, not for a lecturer, not for a leader. We must strive not only to be right, but to be good.
Good leaders honor the dignity of each person with whom they come in contact. Good leaders help others see themselves as heroic characters in the community’s story, not as villains.
Above all perhaps, good leaders make sure that what they do with, to and for others is about the others, and not about themselves.
That’s a struggle. We all have dragons. They aren’t tame creatures.
But good leaders, because they are good, deal with their dragons; they don’t release them to scorch the landscape.
It may be a bit early for a New Year’s resolution, but I’m adopting one anyway.
It’s not enough to be right; I must be good.