Last year this time, I was going through a personal crisis and my decision to take up the Semco Style Institute training gave me a language with which to express what I already knew to be true.
When I began my training in September, 2016, my wife, Christine, was suffering from secondary breast cancer.
She passed away in December that year. What I did in the process of saying goodbye to my wife and closing her earthly life made it amply clear to me that I needed to trust in us as a partnership.
Together, we needed to find a way that was right for her and for me and I was sure that I needed to be transparent about my feelings and thoughts.
I used to have these big arguments with her because I loved her – the fact that she was dying didn’t restrict me from talking about the things that were important to me.
This kind of transparency helped us discuss things like my life after she’d died. She would ask me, “How are you going to lead your life after I’m dead?” or she’d say, “John, I want you to be happy again when I die.”
Trust In The Face Of Vulnerability
These are words that made me feel very vulnerable and it was only because of the trust between us that I was able to lead myself in that situation. I was able to recognize what I actually felt or thought and that eventually helped us to, also with the help of some old and good friends, make a loving connection.
It helped Christine let go and die in a very peaceful way and helped me get along with my life when she died. It was the end of a marriage that lasted nearly 38 years.
My marriage with Christine wasn’t perfect or ‘great.’ It was good because we gave each other what we could. We were able to make it work with all our shortcomings. The trust and transparency between us was a gift and it helped me to be my own leader in a very difficult situation.
But it wasn’t just my wife with whom I shared my trust and transparency with: Two of my good friends, who also work with me, are the ones who invited me to join the Semco Style Institute.
They were part of the first cohort at SSI and when they knew I was in a crisis, they encouraged me to take the training in order to look forward; to look beyond Christine’s imminent death.
They made me see that everything I did then would give form to my life after Christine’s death. It was a delicate issue to talk about but our trust in each other helped us be transparent enough to discuss my personal life at a time when I was quite vulnerable.
What I discovered through the training was that the ideas behind Semco Style can be extended to the way you lead your personal life as well.
Semler’s principles are as much about cooperation with yourself as they are about cooperation at the workplace. I found that the better I got to know myself, the more authentic and self-sufficient I felt. And once I felt self-sufficient, I found it easier to love others around me.
Authenticity Is No Walk In The Park
The five guiding principles of Semco Style help people support each other in a way that’s deeper than what’s usual. Trust, transparency and self-management are things that help us be our own leaders.
We then begin to recognize whether we really need the things we want; and the way we think, feel and act in different situations. It all builds authenticity and authentic employees can add great value to their organizations. When employees stop pretending and playing games, office politics becomes obsolete. In short, what you see is what you get.
But then again, it’s easier said than done. When you put these principles into practice, you are willingly making yourself vulnerable – something that contradicts everything we’ve been conditioned to believe so far.
We’ve all been trained to keep others out and not let anyone look into our hearts. We’ve learned to please others by saying the things they want to hear. But I’ve found that the connections between people get stronger when you put your money where your mouth is.
Bring Love Along To Work
The first step towards creating intimacy between coworkers is to encourage transparency. It invariably brings out the best in people. If we can infuse our work relationships with the same level of sincerity we put into our personal relationships, we can build truly sustainable partnerships.
When we see the people we work with as just another man or woman, it becomes almost okay for us to take advantage of them.
However, if we see them as people who deserve our love and respect – like the ones in our personal lives – it makes us care more and put in more effort towards building relationships with them.
Many believe that love is best left behind at home, but I believe that bringing love into our organizations makes us all happier people at work. We begin to really see our coworkers and in return they begin seeing us too.
And in the midst of such transparency, extreme alignment between coworkers becomes a reality. People not only feel more creative and innovative, they also feel safe enough to openly disagree when it’s necessary.
A loving heart is a heart that hurts so, disappointments are likely to go up when you choose to disagree with someone or when someone disagrees with you. But, we all deal with disappointments in our personal lives every day. We accept that our loved ones may not always agree with us and we strive to find common ground.
If we can translate that same effort into the way we handle disagreements at work, then we can together focus upon common ground, without having to worry about any hidden agenda.
Use Love And Trust To Transcend
Loving someone is hard work and looking back on my marriage, I know we weren’t able to solve all our problems; we didn’t always give each other everything we wanted. There were unfulfilled desires aplenty.
But our marriage was strengthened by the love and trust we felt towards each other despite these shortcomings.
Trust can be potent when it comes with certain boundaries. When you love someone, you do everything you can to stay in a dialogue with them.
In a work environment, too, we need trust that has well-defined boundaries and inspires an ongoing dialogue. There are no perfect marriages or perfect organizations.
But allowing yourself to be vulnerable and loving each other can help you transcend the imperfections of these institutions.
A Space To Disagree And Grow
When employees know that they won’t get fired for disagreeing, it breeds immense creativity and innovation. When people talk about the things they disagree upon, they might discover that they needn’t disagree at all or that it’s time to say goodbye.
Either way, it’s still better than pretending to agree when we don’t agree at all. It can cost a lot of money and frustration to pretend that you agree at the start of a project, only to discover six months down the line that you can’t really keep up the facade anymore.
So, like in our personal relationships, putting effort at the beginning will ensure we aren’t scrambling to correct ourselves later on.
I feel the Semco Style is a lot about personal development too: It makes you realize that the best leadership always begins with yourself.
When you’re your own leader, you begin taking responsibility for your own actions; and you can achieve the kind of alignment that leads you to the best things.
And I believe the best things are better than the good things. The good things make us complacent but the best things push us to make the right choice.
Closure Through Professional Development
What the training program at Semco Style Institute did for me was to reaffirm everything I believed in to be true. The principles of trust, transparency and self-management enabled me to say goodbye to Christine in a way that I am proud of.
It’s an experience I carry with me into my second life. This story of personal and professional development was what I shared at my final presentation at the institute.
I presented on the 6th of April, 2017 – the day when Christine and I would have been married for 38 years. That was a very special moment for me in this training.
I love sharing my story because I believe it can help others who are in similarly vulnerable situations in their lives.
Everybody needs to say goodbye to their loved ones at some point, but what I’ve discovered is that being trusting and transparent can define how you deal with such vulnerability.
The U2 song, Walk On, nails it: ‘Love isn’t an easy thing, but it’s the only thing that we can’t leave behind’.
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All of the pictures on this page were taken by the author of the article, John Sas.