I spent some time today talking with a friend who is recovering from a double mastectomy. Her story is interesting to me on several levels. A little background:
First, she is a recognized business leader, a star in her industry, with a loyal employee base. Her leadership was unquestioned and her team depended on her for critical strategy thinking, on making the big decisions.
Second, she is a trim, physically fit, healthy eating woman who has always been so. True, her mother had breast cancer, but she figured her odds were pretty good that she might be spared. When she learned, after a routine mammogram, that she had a lump in one breast, she was totally shocked. Then she decided to do some homework before deciding on which of several treatments she would choose.
To her surprise, on both her mother's side and her father's side of her family tree, there were numerous cases of cancer. Breast cancer. In fact, her aunt had two different kinds of cancer in one of her breasts. How could this be, my friend asked? Why did I not know this? Turns out no one talked about it, it just wasn't discussed. For generations of women in her family, it was a disease without a name. And some of them died of it.
So my friend decided the silence would stop with her. She talked not only with her family, she shared her situation with friends, even acquaintances. And she gathered her corporate team around her and shared it with them. She said she could not hold back her tears when she told them. Nor did they. She told them that because she had elected to have significant surgery done, she would need them to step up to more serious leadership duties while she was away.
She says the level of decision making has increased, the ability to strategically work through issues--what had been assumed was her domain--has become more sophisticated. She is impressed with her company's employees even more, now that she is not with them on a day to day basis.
And they all talk about it. This goes beyond Brandversation, the kind of conversation leaders initiate to turn employees and customers into evangelists for their brand. This is communication that is simultaneously basic and lofty. It has brought out the best in my friend's employees. And the best in her as well.
She says she is less likely now to sweat the small stuff, that piddling stuff that gets in the way of an organization's ability to really sing in unison.
Her breast cancer talk has sparked a new kind of harmony at her company. Yes, there are major challenges as there always are. But this time everyone seems to have the same page in the song book. Bravo!