The New Normal: Caregivers as Leaders

MandelaWhen a loved one is suddenly struck ill or has a catastrophic event, it changes the world--and without our permission. We are stunned into paralysis—shocked into disbelief—and even shamed into silence. Becoming a caregiver thrusts you into a leadership position. People look to you for guidance, updates, and strength even though you feel the same feelings they do. Leaders are supposed to project an air of invincibility, right? Consider this excerpt from Nelson Mandela’s Leadership Lessons:

Show courage: Mandela was often afraid for his own safety and even his life. Yet, he never showed fear to either his compatriots or his adversaries, saying that a leader “must put up a bold front.”

One of the greatest leaders in world history recommends that we show no fear. A chink in the “bold front” armor may signal weakness, or worse yet, fear and doubt in whether the mission can succeed. So we keep quiet. Play it close to the vest. We never let our family or friends see us sweat.

The problem with that approach is that inevitably when others see that we are, in fact, human, it is such an anomaly that our family and friends think that the sky is falling. Showing vulnerability from time to time, sharing the experience with close family and friends, and rising above it can add to a perception of strength rather than take from it--and result in better health for your loved one.

When our loved ones get sick and need our help to recover or even live comfortably day-to-day, it’s important to talk about the challenges with people you trust—while also letting those around you know that everything isn’t perfect. This includes family members. You will need their help if you want to balance the responsibilities of caring for a loved one and maintaining the life you had already created for yourself.

Do what you do at work. Get your team (a care team) together, set a goal, make a plan, and lead. But talk openly about the challenges with trusted friends and family. Success in this mission means a healthy loved one and a strong, supportive family.

Don’t you want that anyway?