Fridays with Susan...
I was tired beyond words. It was Friday and I should have been anticipating the 5 o'clock horn and a restful weekend at home. But that was not to be. I had been there since 7:30 that morning, dealing with a relentless onslaught of challenges and problems. It was somewhere around noon that I found out I wouldn't be going home for supper with my family, but I would be staying until at least 10:00 o'clock that night, and probably later. Even with me doing a double shift - split between administrative duties for the first half of the day and then spending the late afternoon and evening hours working directly with the energetic young people our team supports, we would still be understaffed. Even in the best of circumstances that meant working really hard, but this week we were faced with a very unusual set of circumstances which had taxed every member of the team to the limit. I knew I would be having to lean unfairly into my hard-working and deeply caring teammate, Doreen. Because of the nature of our challenges that day, she would be carrying two-thirds of the workload and responsibility (twice what would normally have been expected) while I took the easier load. Even then, I was so tired from a week fraught with unexpected and unbelievable challenges that I didn't know how I was going to do it. I was struggling hard with my attitude. I couldn't stop the downward spiral of feelings. It wasn't even close to the first time that week that I had to work hard not to give in to tears.
I can't remember if I called Belinda, or she called me, but I will never forget her words. "What can I do? Would it help if I came there?" Most of you know that Belinda is not only a dear friend, but she is also my direct supervisor at work. Working together so closely comes with its own special set of challenges by times, but it also comes with great blessing. There is no-one I have more respect for in the field we work in and no-one I would rather look to for leadership.
I mumbled something back about how her presence would be helpful - even if she were able to serve up dinner on the plates and change the loads of laundry over as needed. She said, "I'll be there as soon as my meeting is over today." Even while we were making arrangements about when to expect her and what she would be bringing, I didn't quite believe my ears. Help was on the way.
She arrived late that afternoon with coffee and herbal tea - some for the young people who live there and some for the staff who provide support. She found a place to hang her coat and tuck away her purse. Then she set right in to work alongside Doreen and I doing whatever she could to help. Because she was unfamiliar with the how things are particularly done in that program, we started firing off orders and directions. She took it like a real trooper. The positive energy level in the program rose immediately and stayed until long after she left around 10:30 that night. She came to us after an already long day of meetings with colleagues and stayed until she must have been ready to drop.
There were many kind and encouraging words which were directed our way that evening but the one thing I have heard repeated over and over again this week was simply that she had said, "This was a real eye-opener. I can't believe how hard this team works." She was letting us know that she "gets" it.
I suppose I could write for an hour or two about how far-reaching - and lasting - are the effects of that kind of leadership. For instance, I felt my own attitude lift and the negativity subside. It wasn't just a temporary feeling, either. A full week later I am still valuing the efforts of my team more, and criticizing less. And it didn't stop there. The entire team, as they learned one-by-one of Belinda's willingness to come alongside and physically, literally share our burden, all of us experienced a sense of being valued in a way that could never have come through words spoken over a telephone or written in an email. The power of her message lay in her decision to step into our hour of need and become one of us. She identified with us.
Hmmm. When Jesus came to earth, didn't he do just that?