[Excerpt from my new book soon in a bookstore near you…“Down But Not Out: Becoming a Significant Leader at Home.”]
The first seven years of my life were filled with enjoyment and unlimited possibilities. The future looked amazing. I could not wait to ‘grow’ up to scale the heights of Mt. Kenya and enjoy snow on top of it just five miles from my maternal grandparents’ house. To the south of home, there were wildebeests to race with as they performed their well-orchestrated annual migration in the Maasai Mara.
Life with my dad around was awesome. “When I grow up, I want to be like daddy,” I would blurt out without hesitation on being asked what I would like to become. And for dramatic effect, I would thrust out my rib-decked chest in a display of pride. I was that skinny!
My father was my pillar of refuge, the conqueror of anything that crossed his path. Life, I thought, was full of reckless abandon and a future as endless as far as the eye could see. Life was good. That was the powerhouse my father was to me.
Violent interruption. However, a long nightmare was brewing. Unbeknownst to me, my father was about to be violently torn away from me. He was transferred to a different workstation and had to move away to another town. This would take him away from his family. Sometimes, he would be away for up to eleven months every year. It was a bad dream that was to last for over two decades. For this long, I did anything to escape from a past dotted with dark times; times of struggle, pain, poverty, and need. I would pay anything, everything, to forget and totally obliterate this history.
For years, they would keep a family torn apart. Pain ran deep while dreams were shattered and lives devastated forever. A painful existence this became. No child should be allowed to block off a part of his or her life in a bid to find peace within. I was bitter with my father that he chose not to be more present at home for his family.
The depth of this bitterness became evident one day as I was reading the newspaper. For some weird reason, I paused on the obituary pages and wondered what my reaction would be if my fathers photo happened to be there. “I would not shed a tear,” I thought to myself without batting an eyelid. Then, a bolt of lightning jolted my heart while icy blood cut through my veins. This hit home so hard that I wanted to vomit violently!
If you can’t forgive, forget effective leadership. Nearly thirty years later, I chose to forgive my father. It had been a long arduous journey, but one I had to take if I was to live my life to its fullest. I realized that if I was to become a leader to my own family and beyond, I did not have any option but to forgive. But could I?
“The people you lead need to see that you’re not simply reacting to what’s happening around you, but that you’re making sure you’re ready to provide them with whatever support and opportunities they’ll need to succeed. This is why leadership today is less about what you know and more about the relationships you have with those you serve as [they] need to see that you have their backs as much as you expect them to have yours. It’s also why leadership is becoming harder to do well because it requires that we do more than simply maintaining the status quo, but that we seek out avenues and opportunities to improve things; to make things better both for those we lead and for those we impact through our actions,” notes Tanveer Naseer.
Then it happened. On the Christmas morning 2012, I called my father for the first time in years. I have no recollection of the last time I spent Christmas with my father. This time, I called just to wish him a Merry Christmas. And it felt good. My heart was not beating on overdrive. My breathing was normal. The chock-hold I had previously felt on my throat was gone! We had a very cordial conversation. For the first time in their lives, my children spoke to their grandfather. For the first time in his life, my father heard the voices of his two oldest grandchildren and that of his fourth grandchild. For the first time, he could wish his grandchildren a Merry Christmas. This is seven years after the birth of his first grandchild, my daughter.
At 12:11 am on the dawn of 1st January 2013, my cellphone rang. It was my dad on my first call of the year. He just wanted to wish me well in the year ahead.
True leadership brings restoration. Thirty years later, nearly to the dot, the healing began. For the first time in my life, I felt like could stop running and start living again. It was like blood supply was restored to some dead tissue in my body.
“There is no need for wars or violence, under any circumstances. There are no problems that cannot be solved around a table, provided there is good will and reciprocal trust or even reciprocal fear.” Promo Levi, Auschwitz survivor, ‘The Drowned and the Saved’, 1986,
If leaders were ready to forgive others of any hurt or harm that had been directed at them, then restoration is an inevitable outcome. I can already feel the restoration building up from deep within me. Are you ready to forgive to surge forward? It is time for you to lead from within.
[photo credit: Brett Jordan via photopin cc]