What can leaders learn from dying? 12 years ago I was told by an astrologist in the jungle close to Rio de Janeiro that I was born to die. “I am sorry, what do you say?” I asked him. “Yes, you are born to die. Not literally dying, but transforming. I see you on the top of a mountain and when you’ve transformed yourself, you come down and share your story.” Okay… What he didn’t know was that I was struggling with severe heart rhythm arrhythmia in those days. The whole day I’d felt my heart skipping beats. I was very aware that I wouldn’t live forever. That would go on for another 6 years.
I’m interviewing with Timo leaders who are dealing with cancer. This brings us remarkable dialogues. We are designing a program that supports them to get fit and better leaders after chemo therapy.
One manager shares with us that only now he realizes how much love he gets from his co-workers. He is physically not well at all, will die in a few months but work is the place where he feels meaningful. The love that he receives touches him deeply. In the past he was very result and process oriented. Now he starts to see the world from a different perspective.
Another leader tells us that he is afraid since he is officially cured from cancer. The cancer gave structure to his life: he knew what to fight and to get rid off. Now he is very happy that the treatment was successful but there is something lingering in the back of his mind. It’s fear, fear for the openness in front of him. Fear for the seemingly borderless future. The structure has fallen away and he needs to adjust to the new (wonderful) situation.
One of the first people we interviewed has died recently. He was struggling with his family. What to tell at home and what not to tell? How long can I remain working? I don’t want to be pitied by my people or family. And I don’t want to make a fool out of myself. But work and distraction are so important to me in these days.
Another CEO was treated badly by his Board. They were very understanding and he needed to take time for himself. But his place was gone when he came back. He’d found now a better job where he could combine his commercial qualities and his longing to make it a better world. He’s realizing his potential, but the journey has been hard.
When my secretary passed away from cancer it became clear to me that body and mind are not one. Her body had completely given up on her but her mind was totally clear. “Hein, can you share a story with me? I can hardly talk myself but would like to listen to you.” I shared the story in the booklet that I got from dr. Ariyaratne about living and dying according to the Buddhists. She passed away 15 minutes after I left. It touched me deeply.
Remarkable and touching stories that make us feel alive. The connection we have is remarkable and nourishing for all. Death is little part of our lives these days, but a force to be reckoned with. I’ve emphasized the past years with theory U to reach your highest potential. We talk about letting go. But we never dive deeper into the other side of our existence. TBC
Picture above is my tarp on top of the mountain in the Anza Borego desert: four days of fasting and shedding all what’s not needed anymore. See my book: “I am back – with love”