What I Learned About Leadership From a Toothache

May 29, 2014

by Brian Zehr

Leadership is using your influence to bring about change. Sometimes this needed change stirs things up to the point where pain and discomfort show up.

Now I don’t know about you, but I am not a big fan of pain. As a matter of fact, there have been times in my past where I have not led well because I knew that using my influence would cause pain both to others and myself. But sometimes, pain is necessary. I have a toothache. It won’t go away. I’ve been to the dentist twice but truthfully the dentist is who has caused the pain. Everything was fine until she messed with my mouth. To say that this pain is affecting me would be the understatement of my year. But this toothache has also allowed me to learn three crucial lessons that will improve my ability to influence others. Who would think I could learn about leadership from a toothache?toothache-760x760   First of all, pain has a direct affect on my capacity to make good decisions. Today if I take a sip of cold water my mouth feels like it is going to explode as pain shoots up the left side of my face. It feels like a “brain freeze”… you know, those brain freezes you get from eating ice cream too fast, only it is on one side of my face and it doesn’t go away. When this happens the impact of pain affects everything I do. I can’t think clearly, I can’t concentrate, and I certainly can’t make good decisions. Pain is a pressure point for the decisions we make. Think about any bad decisions that you ever made. Did the origin of those decisions come from pain? Mine have. Relational pain, financial pain, failure; you name it. Unfortunately the pressure caused by pain has a direct correlation to poor decision-making. Some of the worst decisions I ever made both on a personal and a professional level came as a decision based solely upon the alleviation of pain. Foolish. What I needed to do was to deal with the pain separately from the decisions. I needed to wait. A second lesson I am learning from this stupid toothache concerns something I have always lacked. Empathy. Leading others often requires engaging with those you lead, relating to what they think and feel. Not naturally a strength of mine. Until I actually experienced pain. Pain is a doorway to loving others. I haven’t had any toothache or mouth pain in decades. If a month ago or so you had come up to me and said you had this terrible toothache I would have told you to “suck it up” and deal with it. I know, I am Mr. Sensitivity. But today, everything is different. It’s one thing to know that toothaches happen. It’s another thing altogether to empathize and actually care about someone because you can “feel his or her pain.” Of course, this is true not just with toothaches but with so many of the other painful experiences we have. Some of us will never grow in our leadership until we experience and emotionally engage with pain. Maybe you need a little more pain in your life in order grow in your leadership. The last lesson I am experiencing in this toothache is the ever-so-constant reminder that I am not in control. I am not strong enough to will the pain away or even to take certain steps to heal myself. Out of the blue, my mouth will start to throb and I realize quickly that I need help. Relief. Healing. Pain is a reminder, and a wakeup call to truth. It reminds me that arrogance has no place in how I live my life or in how I influence others. Pride is a spiritual and relational cancer. Truth is, I’m not strong enough to handle things on my own. I need help. So today I am grateful for this toothache because it lets me practice perseverance in not making foolish decisions. I am thankful that pain gives me the opportunity to engage with others who are in pain. And as much as it pains me to say it, I am grateful for the throbbing reminder that I can’t do it on my own. Enough for now… I’ve got a dentist appointment. View this blog online and find other great resources at ... http://www.intentionalimpact.com/learned-leadership-toothache/
Brian Zehr
Leadership Development