Sunday, July 18, 2010

Meltdowns and Mutual Accountability

Part of the commitment to being accessible and transparent (a misunderstood and much abused word in such contexts as this) as a leader involves a degree of self-awareness and self-control that no leader short of Jesus Christ, who is God, is capable of carrying off without periodic meltdowns. I had a meltdown yesterday at a steering committee meeting of a group that I highly value and whose members I very much admire for their intellect, involvement and service to our church community.

As meltdowns go, it wasn't all that bad in that I wasn't shouting, waving my arms, cursing or raving about the terrible state of the world. On the other hand, my criticisms were negative without being balanced, devolved into whining, and didn't proffer the hope that I usually have to share with others. Not exactly what anyone would label as leadership behavior, and for that, I did apologize and ask forgiveness and forbearance of the group today.

The reasons for my meltdown are many and the usual ones: mental fatigue, social isolation, working what feels like all the time (it isn't really all the time, but it often feels that way), too many simultaneous deadlines, being too much in my own head and getting too accustomed and comfortable with the compliments paid to me. Even for one who travels as much as I do, who meets and interacts with as many diverse people from different walks and places as I do, you could say to me, "You don't get out much, do you?" with assurance that you would have hit the nail on the head.

The work, even when it's for such vaunted purposes as the church and social justice, can become idols at whose altars we not only worship but immolate our best selves in a blindness that precludes stopping to share a meal at the dining room table instead of at the laptop, to laugh out loud at a funny video with the grandkids or to spend a morning at the local farmers market just because it's summertime.

I do recognize the need for me as a leader to roll up my sleeves to do the dishes and the laundry, to get down on my knees to scrub the corners and crevices of the bathroom floor and to spend time talking to people who not only don't share my perspective but who actually challenge my point of view and my motives. Humble actions build perspective and save us from believing our own PR.

To my colleagues' great credit, their understanding and forgiveness have been forthcoming, and I do thank them so very much. 'Tis grace, 'tis grace, 'tis grace, and it's nothing we deserve or earn, but everything that we hope and pray for.

It is the engagement of our mutual participation and mutual accountability that strengthens us as a body, as the Body. It's rather like sharing an aerie where we scoot around, making room for the one who's fussy, being careful not to scoot so much that we push one of our own out of that high nest. There's safety in the nest we share, where we comfort one another as we gather strength and renewal to venture out into the vast world. There's also mutual accountability in that we must call each other to our best selves and help one another hone our skills and our good humor to carry on when it's difficult.

More than anything else, we must especially help one another to remember the way home to the core values that ground us and send us forth anew each day. Forgetting who we are is the consequence of each day of living. Remembering is a conscious act that is fostered by those who love us. I will forever ask the question of myself from now on: how will I feed my fellows so that they remember who they are and to whom they belong? Remembering is a communal act that links us to our historical communities and to those yet to be born. In the Christian tradition, it is our Eucharistic act which we do to remember our source and our strength, our Savior and Redeemer.


The Rev. Margaret A. Babcock said...

Thanks for this Lelanda. Many of us have meltdowns-few of us share with honesty how to recover and go on. Your example is appreciated!

Deborah Sampson said...

Thanks, Lelanda! I belong to a group of organizational development consultants. It is definitely a case of "the shoemaker's children have no shoes." I've been building to an email meltdown for weeks now as we deal with change resistance, accusations of not being transparent and general dis-ease. I changed my perspective from meltdown to taking pride in making my point without melting down. I am extremely proud of that email!