Double Edged Swords – Pay Attention Leaders

The death of Robin Williams one week ago seemed to impact multiple generations in multiple ways. Admittedly, I miss him – and I didn’t even know him.

His comedic and acting gifts helped us all experience joy and fascination in various mediums. His expansive brain and response flexibility was stunning. He was different, he stood out and he made a living out of his uniqueness. Social Media erupted with a cascade of moments, clips, quotes and photos. His death has a ripple effect. I suppose all death has some sort of ripple effect.

I could feel the weight in my heart when I heard and read of his struggle with depression. I wondered if the same ability to process information and his chameleon like tendencies had now become a torture instead of a freedom. Had the very thing that made him Robin Williams been the very thing that resulted in his pain?

I didn’t realize it until I went through his career history, but I kind of grew up with Robin Williams. From Mork & Mindy to his movie portfolio – Good Morning Vietnam changed one of my world views – the kindness he showed to the civilians in that movie made me want to go and see the parts of the world that until then I had only really known in a negative way. In that movie he made me want to be kinder. He made me want to be better. There are so many, and I won’t list them all, moments that have widen my world on the heels of his talent. 

Often times our gifts are a double edge sword. What gift do you have that is integral to who you are and what you offer others? Is that gift sometimes arduous or heavy? Is there something that you love to do for people but sometimes it is just too much? Is it like a hair stylist or a lawyer, do they want to come home and do hair or offer legal advice? Is there skill in jeopardy of being prostituted by the needs of others?

Over the course of the last seven days I’ve heard a lot of stories about Robin Williams, mostly about his overwhelming consideration for others. His giving and support to others he said ‘sometimes left none for him.’

And so I ask you; what signs are you missing of one or more of your team members whose gift and good will is being maximized? Who needs a break? Who needs a moment of care and attention just for them?

In a previous leadership role I had a chap that would complain, not all the time, but consistently when he needed my one to one attention. Initially, I just found it irritating – the constant complaints about small things or easily fixed things. But those complaints were really his way to communicate to me that he needed some attention. We worked in a very busy environment that often left us in a situation of – if you didn’t ask you didn’t get, it was unintentional neglect. 

And when I figured out what he was telling me I would say ‘okay, it sounds like you need some Tanya Time’ and I would sit with my complete attention on him and allow him to ask or tell me anything he wanted. Sometimes I heard about his family, his Dad or his mortgage. But mostly he used our time well and proceeded to flourish unattended each time after our conversation. His complaining was his smoke signal that he was at maximum capacity. I was happy to give him 20 minutes of my day because he always worked so hard for so long to achieve when he felt heard and no doubt like he mattered. You see, he held a position where people asked him for things, all day long; they asked him for information or product or phone numbers or ideas or solutions. All day long he tended to others.

As a leader it’s your job to pay attention – I’ve said that before and you will see it again. It’s your job to learn the signs of mental stress of your team. It’s your job to learn what they need and to help them get that or at minimum to coach them to become aware of their own capacity. Our gifts can be our mediums, but let’s agree to work at not taking advantage of each other. Let’s agree to be better.
You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it. – Robin Williams
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