What kind of life would that be?
Mike Morrison, Ph.D.
Creating Meaningful Change
July 22, 2022
I had just come home from a conference where one of the speakers, a noted psychologist, was asking the hypothetical question:
If you could take a “happy” pill that would relieve you from the pain, suffering and sadness that can define our days . . . would you?
I posed the same question to my sixth-grader Mackenzie – who was in the back seat of our car as I was driving her to a friends house. I was a little reluctant . . . given the “heaviness” of such a question for a 12-year old . . . but I asked anyway.
Without hesitation, she replied: “What kind of life would that be?”
Intuitively we know both sad days and bad days come with this life. We also know that it is these experiences that shape us the most — bringing a sense of grit, resilience and personal growth not found in the ordinary moments of our lives. Relatedly, a manager described how a difficult year had enriched her team in some unexpected ways:
“The last twelve months were filled with hardship . . . taking us to the edge more than once. But we got through them . . . somehow. It strengthened our sense of purpose and who we are. We’re actually starting to find humor in some of the darkest moments. Imagine that. We are glad to be through it . . . but in hindsight it was an amazing year.”
I am absolutely sure you have experienced similar sentiments. Its all part of being human.
In our work lives, we also know that managers are often ill-prepared to facilitate this kind of meaning-making. When the going gets tough, the not-so-tough behaviors we typically see are:
1) Suppressing: Not fully sharing the potential impacts of the poor sales figures – while hoping that things will magically get better on their own.
2) Skewing: Only highlighting the goods news in the recent re-organization announcement.
3) Sugarcoating: Providing an overly optimistic view of the limited career opportunities within the organization.
The main reason is simple. Managers want to minimize bad news and the potential confrontations and ill-well that will follow. Like a good parent, they also want to protect the “kids” from the harsh realities that surround us.
That’s unfortunate. It not only creates distrust from the lack of transparency – but it severely limits the “meaning-making” and growth potential from dealing with adversity in more direct ways. The artful leader will see opportunities in the inevitable setbacks . . . opportunities to rethink our goals, our individual work, and how we work together.
As holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl reminds us, we are hard-wired to find meaning in the most difficult situations. So, the leader leverages this insight with an overall message to the team that says:
“We are going to have setbacks and challenges. Some will push us to our limits. My commitment to you is deal with them openly and honestly. I also believe these challenges can serve as opportunities for us to re-think things, creatively innovate, and personally grow from the experience. I can’t wait for our first test together.”