Helping Employees Dream: The Day My World Crumbled

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Helping Employees Dream: The Day My World Crumbled

My heart sank when I answered my cell phone to my wife’s trembling voice. She could barely speak but I knew what she was trying to say.

“Diabetes. They think it is diabetes. We need to take him to All Children’s Hospital to meet with a doctor up there.”

We knew there was something wrong, but neither of us wanted to admit it. Our 17-month old son had been acting peculiar for a few weeks, and on Father’s Day we decided we needed to get him to the doctor the next day.

Type 1 Diabetes was the one thing neither of us wanted to hear. The idea of giving our toddler son two to three insulin shots and pricking his tiny fingers six to eight times to check his blood sugar levels every day was overwhelming. We worried about how he would react to such a traumatic experience.

My wife was devastated. Up until this point, she had been there to kiss every boo-boo; she was his chief cuddler and protector. There was nothing mommy could do to protect her little baby boy from a diagnosis like this. Her heart was broken that day; shattered, really.

I had to be the rock. This was especially hard for me, because I had lost an uncle to the disease when he was way too young. Diabetes felt like a death sentence to me, so I wasn’t sure how I could keep a positive outlook. But I knew I needed to.

After I got off the phone with my wife, I called my boss to arrange for the rest of the day off to take my son to the hospital. I got his administrative assistant, and told her about the diagnosis. She said she would give my boss the message. I knew I’d probably need at least a few days off, but I could only process the immediate need of taking that day. I had no idea what tomorrow would bring.

So I got everything shut down and packed up, got in the car with my wife, and started the long drive to All Children’s Hospital.

It was the most difficult drive I’ve ever had to make. It felt like my whole world was crumbling beneath me. I was holding it together on the outside; I had to be the strong one for my wife. But inside, I was broken. In that moment when everything felt most hopeless, the phone rang.

It was my boss. I later learned he left an executive leadership training program he was running in order to call me. His was the voice I needed to hear—the voice of compassion and strength.

He said, “Dan, take as much time as you need. Don’t worry about vacation time. Don’t worry about projects. You take whatever you need in order to get this settled.”

He continued to tell me about his now grown son who has had Type 1 Diabetes for several years. He understood exactly what we were going through. He gave me every phone number I could possibly need for him and his wife, so that we could call them anytime we needed to. He was determined to make sure I knew they were there for us.

That was the moment when the ground beneath me stopped feeling so shaky.

That was the moment when I was able to look at the rubble all around me and know that I would be able to start rebuilding.

That was the moment when I was able to hold my wife’s hand, look her in the eyes, and tell her that I know we’ll get through this.

It’s been ten years since that day, and it’s still difficult to go back and remember how I felt. I don’t know if my boss knows what he did for me that day. He not only gave me strength to get through a personal difficulty, but he also taught me a couple things about leading people.

First, projects are important, but never, ever, more important than people. We worked hard and accomplished some big things. But when it’s needed, projects can wait. He set all of the needs of the business aside in order to let me know my family and I were a priority. My projects could be resumed whenever I was ready to come back. Until then, they were on hold.

Second, he showed me what compassion looks like. He identified with my pain and struggles. I knew that he knew what I was going through. The disease (or other traumatic experience) itself isn’t important. However, the ability to identify with someone’s struggles is. It helped me immensely knowing that he could feel my pain, and not just feel sorry for me that something bad was happening in my life.

This experience helped me be a better leader, both for my family and in my everyday work. That was the day I experienced great despair, as well as great hope and love.

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” — 1 Corinthians 13:13 

(P.S. Thank you, Brian.)

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Helping Employees Fulfill Their Dreams

The TV show Undercover Boss gives employers a unique opportunity to spend a few days in their employees' shoes. CEOs and Presidents of large and successful companies go undercover and do the work of people who work on the front line every day. Through this experience, the employer often gets the chance to hear the dreams of their employees firsthand. Hearing the hopes and dreams those employees have for their families, their futures, and themselves often becomes the catalyst for the employer to help make those dreams come true.

Not every employer gets a chance to spend a day in an employee's shoes, but each employer/employee relationship is worthy of faithful and compassionate stewardship. Every interaction is an opportunity to lead from the soul. In this series, Helping Employees Fulfill Their Dreams, we'll explore what it means to lead from the soul in our relationships with our employees, even if we never make it on a television reality show.