The Bomb: A True Story about Leadership, Trust, and Control

stressed studentThere was a bomb threat at a small private school recently.  The head of school received the threat on Tuesday afternoon for Wednesday.  She immediately alerted law enforcement and gathered the appropriate group of leaders at the school and then contacted the parents to let them know school was cancelled on Wednesday (out of “an abundance of caution”) while they dealt with the threat.  The local police and FBI swept the school with bomb-sniffing dogs multiple times and even had a helicopter fly overhead to inspect rooftops.  They identified the perpetrator and made sure the school was safe (and swept again) before reopening school on Thursday.

On Thursday morning, the head of school held a special assembly for parents and explained what had transpired in as much detail as law enforcement officials would allow her to.  She then opened the floor to questions—and that’s when the real explosions occurred.  Parents criticized her actions and motivations.  They thunderously applauded each other’s accusations and tried to derail the meeting with emotionally charged diatribes.  I will stop here to tell you why I am recounting this story.

This is a story about leadership. 

No matter how much the head of school did right and how high she prioritized the safety of the children and how much she communicated with the parents, it wasn’t enough.  Nobody said, “Wow, that must have been a tough situation for you and you handled it well.”  Instead, they focused on themselves, raising one complaint after another about how little they were involved in the situation.

This is a story about trust. 

While the school leaders were managing the situation on Tuesday night, one parent called the local TV station to send reporters in to spy on what was going on and broadcast it for everyone to see.  This raised the question: why was there so little trust?  Was it the leader who was not trustworthy or was it the parents who weren’t able to trust?  I think it was the latter.

This is a story about control. 

People who have a high need for control aren’t able to trust others.  Our society currently encourages people to have a high need for control by drawing attention to everything we don’t control, like natural disasters, terrorism, and aging.  We run around in such a panic that we crave control and many of us end up trying to control things we can’t, like our children, their teachers, and even their bosses.

It’s time to loosen the grip.  Yes, it would have been a tragedy if a bomb had detonated at the school and hurt children, but it didn’t, and it couldn’t have because they closed the school.  They got police, FBI, dogs, and helicopters to ensure the safety of the school.  They did a good job.  It’s time we get hold of ourselves and learn to let go and trust others.  We can’t control everything, and we can’t control most things.  But we can control ourselves.  And we need to, if not for our own well-being, for everyone else’s sake.

Look at what the anxiety caused in this situation.  On Thursday, by total coincidence, someone inadvertently set off the fire alarm at the school.  The children were so stressed out they ran around and screamed and hid under desks.  Why do you think they were so stressed out?  Because the parents were out of control.

Anxiety is rampant right now among children and adults in our society.  According to the New York Times Magazine, hospitalization for teen suicide has doubled in the past ten years and so has the number of college freshmen who feel overwhelmed by all they have to do.

The Millennial generation of adults has the highest level of anxiety of any generation to date.  In fact, approximately one in five Millennials report experiencing depression, compared to 16 percent of Generation X employees and 16 percent of baby boomers, according to Bloomberg BNA.  This is no laughing matter.  Anxiety and depression wreak havoc on health and can lead to drug use and suicide.

We as leaders, parents, and adults need to take a deep breath, learn to trust, and role model composure for the people of the next generation.  The stakes are too high not to.

 

The Key to Shedding Apathy and Reengaging

https://static.pexels.com/photos/36785/soldier-military-uniform-american.jpgPeople sometimes ask me why my work is important.  While I’m normally pretty clear on the impact of the work I do, lately I’ve been questioning it.  Beaten down by daily news of a divided country, threats of war, mass shootings, and natural disasters, it’s hard to think that anything I do makes a difference.  I’m not alone in this thinking.  I run across it with others all the time.

To stay engaged, I have to keep remembering why I do what I do.  I consult, speak, and coach to help people—to help individuals be more successful and happy in their lives and to help organizations be more successful by improving the performance of their people.  No matter what goes on in the world around us, making the world a better place—even at a small level—is important, and that’s what keeps me going.

We all are making the world a better place in one way or another.  The key is to figure out what your impact is and not lose sight of it.

To keep sight of how you are making the world a better place, look at the ways in which you impact the world, either through your work, your organization’s products or services, or in your life outside of work.  Here are some things to consider.

https://static.pexels.com/photos/196652/pexels-photo-196652.jpegHow does your work itself impact the world? Here are some examples of how people’s work positively impacts the world.

  • You provide a service that helps people, like performing surgery to unblock arteries.
  • You provide a service that makes people happier, like teaching meditation to help people relax or doing standup comedy to make people laugh.
  • You increase human knowledge, like conducting scientific research to find cures for diseases or look for life on neighboring planets.
  • You help the earth, like by developing sustainable farming practices or delivering farm-to-table dining.

Even if you work in a seemingly meaningless corporate or government bureaucracy, you still have the ability to make a positive impact in your daily life.  Think about the power you have to improve someone’s day by simply giving them a smile or asking them how their day is going, or by helping them with a task.  You can bring meaning to any job.

https://static.pexels.com/photos/212286/pexels-photo-212286.jpegIf you don’t see how your role impacts people or the world in a significant way, what you do may be part of a bigger organization that has positive impact. How does your organization improve the world?

  • Your organization provides a service that helps people, like healthcare.
  • Your organization provides a service that makes people happier, like entertainment.
  • Your organization increase human knowledge, like through scientific research.
  • Your organization helps the planet, like by developing sustainable energy.

I consulted for one pharmaceutical company that reminded its employees daily that the mission of the company was to save lives.  The company researched, developed, and sold products to manage diabetes and to manage weight loss.  Every single employee at the company was helping to fulfill that mission, whether they were a scientist, an administration assistant, a food service worker, or member of the janitorial staff.  Every job was necessary to save lives.

https://static.pexels.com/photos/302083/pexels-photo-302083.jpegPerhaps your work isn’t your contribution to the world. Rather, you use work as a vehicle to do other things that make an impact.  How do you make an impact on the world through your family, friends, or activities?

  • You raise children or grandchildren or take care of other family members who need it.
  • You give advice and companionship to friends.
  • You volunteer at an animal shelter, school, veterans’ association, museum, or some non-profit organization that is helping make the world a better place.
  • You write, create art, or perform and share your talent with others.
  • You vote.

These are only a few examples of the good that people do and the impact that people have on the world.  Yours may be big or small, but every bit counts.  In fact, these are precisely the things that do count when there is so much negativity that is outside of our control.