Feeling What You Feel Will Help You

Heather Furby

November 20, 2017

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To my dear female leaders—in technology, in business, in life:

Holy COW this month was a doozy! I don't mean to be light-hearted about it because in fact, I'm not at all feeling light and having great difficulty finding my heart. I was thrown off my game with the Northern California Fires. I have paused from my organized Cause and Success series to write about . . . life: the real cause and success.

It's not just this month with the fires, though this event affected me most and gave me the time to reflect on what is important.

Since June 2017 our world has witnessed tragedies including (and sorry, I just can't include a full list) the Manchester Arena Bombing, Jerusalem Truck Attack, London Bridge Attack, Barcelona Van Attack, Las Vegas Concert Shooting, Hurricanes Irma, Harvey, and Maria, Northern California Fires, New York City Shooting, Grenfell Tower Fire, Mogadishu Truck Bomb, and the resurgence of the #MeToo Movement.

Under normal circumstances, each of these tragedies would be the defining event of an entire year. However, we are being forced to grieve at an unprecedented rate.

Grief has a biological, metabolic rate at which it moves. You can't speed it up or bypass it. We need more time to heal than these successive events are allowing. We need time for people directly affected to heal and for the rest of us to pause, reflect, wonder, and adjust to a new reality.

We are at risk of our wounds not properly healing. We are also at risk of becoming immune to tragedies and thinking this is "the new normal." Our hearts may harden. Our communication can become harsh. Our compassion may get buried.

So I am writing this open letter to women in leadership to help us define and deliver a new face of leadership. This is not a list of "shoulds;" not a list of things to watch out for; not a list of bemoaning circumstances.

This letter is an attempt to call forth our compassionate relationships and pause to reflect on how we want to show up in this world.

As I mentioned, I was most affected by the Northern California Fires. I lived in Santa Rosa, Sonoma County for over two decades and currently reside in Nevada County. Both were heavily damaged in recent wild-to-residential fires. While I, my family, my pets, and my "stuff" are safe, it threw me off course. I was glued to the unfolding tragedies, hearing from one friend after another that the only thing left of home was the Buddha statue, a single piece of pottery, a photo frame, or a dog dish...but no dog. One friend sent me pictures showing that the fire engulfed everything, but miraculously stopped at the exact step in the garden where her beloved partner died just four months ago. Each story tossed me back into tears and eventually under the safety of the bed covers.

I don't usually say "I'm sorry" unless I've messed up. Lately, I feel like every email, phone call or text begins with "I'm sorry." I'm sorry I missed another deadline. I'm sorry I forgot to show up for lunch. I'm sorry I yelled at you over not feeding the dog. I'm sorry. I'm sorry.

What I really feel like I'm saying is "I'm sorry I survived. I'm sorry I can't take away your pain."

And what does this have to do with leadership and women and business?

I found for myself, dozens of my clients, and hundreds of my colleagues that it's all too easy to push past the grief and "get back to business."

As women, we often emulate the model of leadership that has us compartmentalize emotions, especially unpleasant feelings of sadness and grief. During the fire devastation, I kept thinking "I'm fine! I didn't lose anything. I shouldn't be so depressed." But then I'd miss another deadline and feel even worse. And then I'd feel bad about feeling bad and try to push those feelings down, which lead to lashing out at someone new, and then feeling horrible. And I'd yell at myself, "Furby, get yourself together!!" Needless to say, yelling at myself had the reverse effect of healing. But that didn't stop me.

In my head, I kept hearing the words of leaders of my past like "just get back to work, it will be a welcome distraction" and "stop whining/complaining/making waves" and mostly "stop being so...DRAMA!" Then I'd feel humiliated that I was being so emotional and couldn't deliver a simple report or article so I'd sit down and MAKE myself do what needs to be done, then deliver it late or not up to my standards.

You can see the cycle, yes? The key point is, I was not allowing myself to grieve, much less to begin healing. All of my advice and teaching was being applied to others and somehow my ego thought I could power through this emotional "stuff."

What can we do differently?

Lately, I've witnessed female leaders tell employees, with the best intentions, "At least you're safe; You're so lucky; It was only stuff that was lost . . . that can be replaced."

I hear women say those things to themselves. "I don't know why I'm upset, I'm safe" or "I shouldn't be so sad, I only lost stuff" and even "he didn't rape me/beat me/cause me harm so I should just be quiet and get back to life."

What we need is to pause, relate, listen, and get curious. The feminine face of leadership is being called forward. I believe this feminine face is powerful, compassionate, curious, direct, but both quiet and can throw a tantrum.

Rather than asking the world to "get back to normal," we can ask our colleagues "How are you, really? How is this event affecting you? What is the effect on your life? Your family?" And then listen. Listen to his story. Listen to her glory. Listen to the fear, the worry, the grief.

Do your best to fight the urge to "one up" her version of events with your own story.

Do your best to simply listen, and ask "What do you need?"

Do your best to break the rules, and give your team some time off to grieve or to find joy in each others company.

Do your best to let the people that surround you each day know that it's okay not to be perfect and to take time to heal, or the cycle will continue.

So, this week, the call to action is . . . no action. Instead, ask questions. Ask about feelings. Take a risk to tell your colleagues that you, too, break down, have emotions, and have the world crash down around you.

That is leadership.

Next month, we'll be back to the Cause And Success series with what to do when someone says yes to your request, but doesn't deliver. At least we think we'll be back on track. Maybe not. Maybe I'll still be under the safety of the bed covers, wiping away my tears and feeling the open grief. Until then . . . get curious, stay connected, and be confident.

"Recognize impermanence and suffering and egolessness at the kitchen-sink level, and be inquisitive about your reactions. Find out for yourself about peace and whether or not it's true that our fundamental situation is joyful." — Pema Chodren

Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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