Image via Xinhua Silk Road
“Before the truth sets you free, it tends to make you miserable.”
–Father Richard Rohr
Feeling like a failure several times a day is a core feature of leadership, I often quip, with more truth behind the statement than makes me comfortable. When I speak to students, residents, or younger colleagues, I warn them that the best possible balance of responsibility and autonomy is to remain “just” a physician: no Associate this, no Dean of this, no VP of that. Being “just a physician” also offers the best work-life balance. Why then, after ten years in senior leadership positions and at least 5 years since I’ve consciously had that revelation, do I not only stay in leadership positions but keep pushing to accomplish more?
My origin story is not simply that by having a life generously shared between what our prior President referred to as a s***-hole country, first world club member Switzerland and what is today the American experiment, I grew obsessed with the idea that inequities are not natural but could be narrowed through designed communal work. A large part is also that my parents dedicated their life, risked their bodies, gambled on their children’s dreams, and certainly gave up material comfort for the challenge of addressing some of the core reasons for post-colonial inequities in my father’s home province of Manianga. Life is complicated. Even though the American side of my family is Norwegian/Anglo-Saxon, I feel very keenly the breath and breadth of my Black predecessors on American soil, who so desperately wished to learn to read, to be educated, to vote, to be accepted into the mainstream of society. Not pursuing leadership opportunities, not doing my utmost to change a system that crushes large swaths of humanity, sometimes knowingly but mostly through blind negligence, would feel like a betrayal of my parents’ idealism, of the hopes of those hard-bitten Norwegian farmers, of my Black spiritual forebears, of the paths denied to my extended family in the Congo.
Formal leadership positions are merely one way in the never-ending attempts to tilt the balance of the world towards a less painful place. It is on the same arc of the deep spiritual well that makes you smile at an unknown baby, hold the gaze of someone begging on the street for money and consider how you can best help, grab the arm of a stranger about to text their way into oncoming traffic. Leadership is an inescapable part of fighting for a world that doesn’t hurt so much.
What are you passionate about? What is the path that would make your life more complete? How will you let yourself lead? What will you ask of your leaders? What call will you choose to heed?
CEO, Lynn CHC
Inspired by a childhood divided between a war-affected third world country – the Congo – and a high performing first world one (Switzerland), as well as parents intimately involved in rural development NGOs, Dr. Kiame Mahaniah brings a deep passion for social justice and the fight against inequities to his work as CEO at the Lynn Community Health Center in Lynn, Massachusetts.