You will not find “When Breath Becomes Air” in the leadership section of your bookstore. But when I finished reading it — after feeling uplifted while also wiping away tears — I couldn’t help but think of the leadership lessons inherent in this powerful book.
Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon in his mid-30s, wrote this memoir after receiving a terminal diagnosis. Essentially, it’s his story of finding meaning, purpose and joy every day, even amid the great difficulties he faced throughout his journey. It’s inspiring, heartbreaking, uplifting and thoroughly thought-provoking.
While I won’t attempt to summarize this book in a few words, I will share some reminders to draw upon in your leadership:
1. Let compassion prevail.
Regardless of appearance, everyone is fighting a battle or dealing with challenges we know nothing about. That includes your team members, your children, your leaders, the angry customer calling to complain. Continually turn to your kinder, higher self.
2. Clarify your values.
Whenever he’d ask “should I …” questions, Kalanithi’s physician would steer him back to his values. What matters most? How can you best honor that today? This week? Going forward?
3. Reconsider the perfect time.
Don’t wait until everything is perfect to pursue a dream, strive for a goal, make a difference. Your work can bring great meaning to your life, and vice versa. What if now is the perfect time?
4. Surround yourself with greatness.
Consciously spend your time with people who challenge you to be your best. Kalanithi’s wife, physicians, various co-workers and other connections served as heroes in his story.
5. Live each day to the fullest.
This is so much more than a cliche. Every day is a gift and an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others. Don’t let obstacles prevent you from creating meaningful experiences whenever and wherever you are.
COACH CHRISTI’S CHALLENGE:
One of my favorite topics to coach around is what I call your Leadership Legacy. Give this concept some thought this week.
Legacy isn’t something to think about only when faced with our own mortality. You essentially choose your legacy by how you live, work, and lead every single day. If you don’t have a grasp yet on your “big picture” legacy, consider it in smaller doses:
What would you love for people to say about you when you leave your next meeting?
How would you like someone to describe you to a stranger?
When people think of you, what word would do you want to come to mind for them? How will you live out that word today?
As a leader, you have the profound privilege and responsibility to make a difference in the lives of others through your example, words and actions; something to take seriously while living lightheartedly. Decide, right now, your Leadership Legacy. Then let your days be a beautiful expression of those with every action and interaction.
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