On Saturday, July 8th, the weather couldn’t have been any better. The temperature was a crisp 92 degrees and the humidity hovered between 95 and 100%. Partly cloudy with a chance of sauna–typical summer weather for the Gulf Coast–and the perfect day to lay sod!
I boldly announced to the family earlier in the week that Saturday was the day. However, to avoid this task, Britton quickly found a job and moved to Birmingham. Sam gave me a wide berth all week and snuck out to the new Spider Man movie when the grass arrived. And Christy, well, was there really ever a chance that she would do yard work?
That left Jack. Sweet Jack. Jack has been the last son at home for two years now. Knowing that our time would soon be coming to an end, Christy and I have loaded that poor kid up with lots of undesirable projects over the last 24 months. Laying sod would be his last.
We started at 10:00 a.m. By 10:15 after simply walking around the yard to get a plan of attack, I was already low on fluids. But we cranked up the tiller and got after it. The ground was soft but . . . embedded with wisteria vines. I hate wisteria. So did our tiller. I wrestled, jerked, and tugged at the tiller until all my fluids were gone.
By 11:30 a.m., my fluids were replaced by hallucinations. Pretty sure I saw my second grade teacher Mrs. Walker riding a unicorn. That’s when I knew I should drink something. Jack and I took a short break, but plowed on until we finished at 4:00 p.m. I was whipped.
I was a bit embarrassed that I bragged to Jack before we got started that I laid sod and dug sprinkler system trenches when I was fourteen. By 4:00 p.m., there was no doubt in my mind that I was not fourteen anymore. I had lost six pounds and a lot of self-esteem.
About five days later, I noticed a weird itchy sensation on my forehead. A few hours later, a searing pain radiated from my right ear to the itchy spot on my forehead and I could have sworn that my face was swelling along that same path.
The next morning I woke up like this. . .with SHINGLES.
Which is odd, because normally when I wake up I look like this:
Christy was noticeably upset about this recent change in my appearance.
I quickly googled “Shingles Treatment” and satisfied myself that modern medicine had nothing to offer. So I went to Birmingham to help Britton move into his new apartment. It got worse. As did the shaming by Christy and all her friends for me to see a doctor. Christy is so loving. She stepped up the pressure by calling me “Quasimodo” because of my disfigurement. Look away, I’m hideous. Look away!
I finally relented. But, man, I hate being wrong. And I hate being weak. Even worse, I hate being stupid by not doing the smart thing. I should have listened to Christy. I should have listened to my friends. I should have heeded the warning from Terry Bradshaw.
According to the doctor, the do-it-yourself sod project was the culprit. The heat and the humidity dehydrated me and the hard work overwhelmed my 50 year old immune system. (Did he have to say that?) He added salt to my already vulnerable wound by reminding me that I wasn’t as young as I used to be. I didn’t have the nerve to tell him that Jack went kayaking for a couple of hours when we got through with the sod.
Funny thing though. As I pondered all this while convalescing, I became acutely aware that I had not been following my own prescribed medicine that I offer many leaders.
Leaders rise to their position by demonstrating strength. Strength with decisions, with finances, with strategy, and especially with people. There is usually a trail of evidence behind them that confirm this. But recent research confirms a disturbing trend that I sometimes find in leaders.
Power changes them.
In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Dacher Keltner reports this:
While people usually gain power through traits and actions that advance the interests of others, such as empathy, collaboration, openness, fairness and sharing; as they advance in power or prestige, these qualities fade. These leaders are more likely to engage in rude, selfish, and unethical behavior.
There I was, laid up, because I refused to listen to those who empathized with my plight. I wanted no part of their collaborative experience and suggestions on how to treat shingles. I selfishly wanted to show how strong, how much better I was. Some might say I was rude.
And guess who came out on the wrong side of this equation?
If you are a leader, don’t let power corrupt you. Just because you have a little knowledge (like I do about medicine) or because you want others to see you as strong and independent (conquered three pallets and a tiller in suffocating heat!), don’t forget you got to where you are with the help of others.
Studies show that displaying empathy, gratitude, and generosity actually improve the results of leaders. (See Leaders Eat Last.) And remember, sometimes it is okay to be on the receiving end of this as well. That is hard for a stubborn, prideful, know-it-all like me.
So what did I learn? Next time I lay sod I am calling all my friends to help me instead of attempting it SHINGLE-handedly.