Can losing someone you love can make you a better leader ?

One year ago today, I was delivering a workshop for a valued client, and as we broke for lunch at 11.57am, I looked at my phone and realised I had missed multiple calls from both my brother and step-father.

I did not need to listen to the voicemails to know what they were calling about. They were ringing to let me know that my mother, Susan, had died that morning at 11am.

She was 69 years old and passed away following a short and crippling battle with cancer.

She was simply the most amazing person that I have ever known and I learned so much from her throughout her life – the power of unconditional love, the strength of the human spirit, and about being true to oneself.

I have also learned other things since her passing that I wanted to share to mark this day.

Grief focuses you on what really matters

What really matters to me more than ever now is the difference I make to people’s lives, the experiences, the moments, the memories created and shared. 

As a leader, the ability to focus on what really matters and stay focussed on it is a priceless skill.If you don’t know what matters to you go figure it out.

Grief makes you realise what we all know but only few appreciate – life is so short and precious.  So spend it doing the things you love, being with the people you love, and following your dreams.  Mum always believed in me unconditionally and always encouraged me (in the face of much opposition at times!!) to do what I love – and for the last 4 years I have finally found the career I love.

Losing Mum had helped me realise that health is the greatest wealth

So, I live my life more consciously in respect of my physical and mental well being – exercising, eating to win, committing to quality sleep and practicing mindfulness.

You will never be a great and authentic leader unless you are following your passion, and you will never be at your best unless you commit consciously to the habits that support elite performance.

Grief helps you learn to dream bigger and take more risks. In the last few weeks of her life, when we knew that the end was in sight, we spent time reminiscing about all the great times, but mum also shared a few of the things she would have love to have done – which was hard for me to hear. A few days after her death, I was sat in my office and found a note that said “Matthew, in the end we only regret the chances we didn’t take. Love Mum x”

Great leaders take risks, chances and opportunities that present themselves. Indeed, even when opportunity does not knock they build a door. What opportunities and chances are there for you to take right now?

And finally, grief helps you learn that it’s okay to not be okay

No matter how positive you are, losing a loved one and your best friend hurts like hell. Coping and healing comes from acknowledging,trusting,and sharing your feelings with others.

Leadership is about creating trust. Genuine trust is created when leaders acknowledge their own emotions, show humility, and vulnerability and ask for help.

I am not sure that Mum would have ever described herself as an expert on leadership but I think she was.

You see the secret to being a better leader is to be a better human being. And my Mum was an incredible human being.