Guest MINDSETTER™ Deckman: What Stage 4 Cancer Taught Me About Leadership
Tuesday, October 17, 2017
By February of 2016, I got the official diagnosis of what I already knew to be true. I was told that I had Stage 3 throat cancer. However, that diagnosis proved to be false when a few weeks later I was told that I actually had Stage 4 cancer. When I asked the doctor how he gave me the wrong diagnosis, the doctor simply told me that he “misspoke.” No apology. No concern for how I might handle the unwanted upgrade. Ouch.
What followed that diagnosis, and continues to this day, is one of the most amazing classes in spirituality and leadership I ever could have imagined. Cancer was, and still is, one of the most powerful and effective teachers I have ever encountered. I am grateful to it for its gifts.
While I certainly do not want it to return I greatly value the lessons I, and those closest to me, learned as a result of the experience. Its impact on my life and on those closest to me has been profound. So as I write this article I am 16 months post treatment and recently received my 3rd “cancer free” scan. I live in gratitude.
Lately, I have been getting the nudge to share some of the powerful leadership lessons this experience has taught me. While I could fill volumes on the subject (and have via a podcast I made that chronicles my cancer journey: Stewards of the Light) I will limit this article to what I currently consider the top 4 lessons in leadership I learned from my “Cancer Class.” Hopefully, they can help you as they have helped me.
1. “I am who I am because this one is like that.”
I always saw this phrase from Rumi as a prayer of self-acceptance, self-respect, and permission to be Authentic. I have since added: “And I will be that with as much grace as I can muster” to help remind me of the importance of humility. In the beginning, I was told this experience would teach me more about self-love and being authentic than I could ever imagine. What I learned is that being authentic is about me respecting who I am at my core and allowing others to see that truth. And any leader who does not care enough about themselves to both be and show themselves will never care about another enough to let them be or show themselves either. Authenticity is essential to leadership.
2. Be 100% honest 100% of the time, especially when the stakes are highest.
From the beginning, I told my children and my fiancee that I would be 100% honest with them every step of the way. There is a saying that states: “I can’t trust your ‘yes’ until I can trust your ‘no’.” That speaks to the need to deliver both good and bad news with the exact same level of Integrity so people learn to trust you. I can tell you that I was tempted to not tell anyone of my revised diagnosis from stage 3 to 4 out of concern for them. Then I realized how disrespectful it was to see them as being weak instead of allowing them to experience being strong. I learned that a leader who sees those around them as being strong and powerful becomes a leader of a strong and powerful team.
3. Always “See the human in the human.”
If you didn’t know I had cancer you wouldn’t have known I had cancer; at least in the beginning. Everyone is carrying something challenging that they are working through. If not now, then they have in the recent past or will in the not too distant future. If I want to be an effective leader people have to know that I truly Respect them both as people and as equals. The degree to which I respect them is the degree to which they will respect me. I learned that a leader who engages people with respect for their humanity will build bonds of trust and loyalty that will allow everyone to persevere even in the most dire of circumstances.
4. Leadership is a state of consciousness.
In order to be of service to something much larger than ourselves- which is the only role of a true leader- I cannot operate with an ego-based consciousness - even when I am under great stress. Once I learned how to detach and “rise up” I was able to always see the bigger picture. (Much like the higher one rises in a hot air balloon the more perspective of their surroundings they gain.) By taking the viewpoint and the consciousness of the “observer” I was able to depersonalize issues. In doing so I was able to assess challenging situations clearly, with less emotion. I could then help others do the same. I learned that as a leader I can never lead a team to a level of consciousness higher than that which I am capable of displaying in the moment.
So, as I look at my future and I think about how I want to serve others with whatever time I have left I have decided that I want to do what I can to create a conversation with others who believe that having more leaders who consciously Lead with A.I.R. (Authenticity, Integrity, and Respect) is worthy of some effort.
Jeffrey Deckman is the founder of Capability Accelerators. He is a grateful guy, a serial entrepreneur and the creator of the 2017 Leading with AIR conference. He can be reached at [email protected] CapabilityAccelerators.com
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Kevin Tracy and Oliver Bennett— There are deals and there are BIG DEALS. In Rhode Island, with all of the changing players and banking relationships, one reality is pretty much the same. If you have a big deal that needs sophisticated financing, the community banks may not be able to handle it.
Bank of America may have abandoned the Superman Building, but they are still in Rhode Island and still doing big deals. Kevin Tracy, the former Brown golfer and Oliver Bennett — long ago Fleet Bank trainees — are now the guys you bring in for a $50 million deal. The more things change - the more they stay the same.
John Hazen White, Jr. — White has taken Taco to new levels as he has made a series of strategic acquisitions to bolster the Rhode Island manufacturing company into a global firm.
He continues to be a leader in American manufacturing investing in worker retention and employee training.
Behind the scenes, White is a combination of an adviser and moral compass to many in Rhode Island. Despite taking a lower profile than his Lookout RI days, White is still a force pushing for ethics reform.
Joe Paolino — Once the young Mayor who took over in the 1980s when Buddy Cianci was forced to resign (the first time), now the leading corporate voice in Providence if not Rhode Island.
While others complain at lunches at the Hope Club and University Club about the plight of the Capital City, Paolino has rolled up his sleeves and taken on issues like panhandling and homelessness.
With a real estate empire that includes much of downtown, some of the top properties in Newport and Hasbro’s campus in Pawtucket to name a few, Paolino has close ties to Governor Gina Raimondo and even closer ties to the Clintons - could a federal appointment be in the works in 2017?
Steve Kirby — No one dominates commercial real estate in Rhode Island like Kirby does on Aquidneck Island. His red “Kirby Commercial” signs are literally everywhere across the island and in Newport proper -- they are more frequent than street signs.
Want to open a clothing store in Newport? Go see Steve Kirby. Looking to launch a startup tech firm? Call Kirby. Developed cool technology and want to start producing for the Navy? Email Kirby.
Kirby maybe the most influential in business on Aquidniick Island. (PS He will tell you which bankers to talk to).
George Nee — President of the AFL-CIO, Nee is one of the most influential players in business in Rhode Island.
He is Vice Chair of the Convention Center Authority Board, on the Commerce Corp board, the most influential voice for labor at the State House, and involved one way or another in just about every negotiation on constructing public buildings or issuing a tax stabilization agreement in Providence.
For the most part his public persona has been more muted recently, but that has not impacted his private influence. If it happens in Rhode Island, Nee has probably touched it.
Sally Lapides — If Teddy Roosevelt were alive today and saw the number of Residential Properties’ real estate signs on the East Side he would call it a monopoly and want to break up the company. Lapides not only dominates one of the most affluent sections of Rhode Island, but she also delves into the arts, education and politics.
When you sell the wealthiest and most influential their homes, you make a lot of friends.
Lapides is a force in residential real estate and it will be interesting to see what she does next.
Helena Foulkes — Two of the biggest decisions CVS ever made were the brain children of Foulkes. The Extracare card and the removal of tobacco from its stores were both influenced by Foulkes.
She has emerged as a national power in business and makes all the business lists for top women, but make no mistake - she is wildly influential in Rhode Island.
She is close to Raimondo and she may decide to jump into political waters in the future - or may decide if she can snag the CEO spot at CVS.
Visionary or Free Rider
Buff Chace — One of downtown Providence's biggest real estate magnates is a lightning rod in the Capital City. Widely considered to be one of the prime catalysts of Downcity's resurgence, Chace's accumulation of properties on Westminster Street is straight out of a Monopoly playbook.
His recent acquisition of the ProJo building has further solidified his dominance, which has not been without intense scrutiny, given his ability to continually secure -- and extend -- tax stabilization agreements at a time when the city's dire financial straits are close to reaching a head.
Wealthy, influential, and active in the community, Chace has chaired the Downtown Providence Parks Conservancy and has been a member of the Executive Committee of the Providence Foundation, and is a director emeritus for GrowSmart RI and a trustee emeritus of Trinity Repertory Theatre.
Richard Baccari — One of the biggest real estate developers in New England. For decades he has been a major player in Providence, Rhode Island and the northeast.
During that span, he has been the driving and innovative force behind some of the region's most significant residential and commercial development endeavors.
See a Stop and Shop development and Baccari probably built it. Has fought back business challenges and much more.
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