“I love you, but I hate myself.”
…but I hate myself…but I hate myself…but I hate myself…
This is the refrain that has again wrecked my mind over the last 24 hours. It started echoing in my brain when I saw the first article announcing Robin Williams’ suicide. I don’t know why this one has gotten to me so. I have hardly heard anything else today. It has stolen my focus. So, I am writing here to give it its due.
This was the last phrase offered to my family and me from my Father: the last communication, the last line of his brief suicide note. He told us each that he loved us, but that he hated himself.
The horror and sadness that someone who loved him feels at those words is beyond my ability to express. I know it’s what family, friends, and fans of Robin Williams are feeling today. Our imaginations try to grasp life, love, and relationships under that sort of shadow; self-hatred tainting everything you do, see, are. A mind that doesn’t know Depression simply can’t comprehend.
We cry for his suffering and its contradiction to the joy he provided. I cry again for my Father’s suffering and contradictions. I am amazed both lived as long as they did.
And strangely, my Father’s final written words provide some comfort and explanation for why we arrived here in mourning, in loss, in confusion. They articulate that he could no longer face himself, even as he faced the world with such love and ferocity of spirit. I sat with him just the week before as he sobbed uncontrollably wringing his hands and apologizing for things within – no connection to my reality as his son.
It was that spirit within. It’s not that it was dead; it was corrupt, vicious, and destroying him from the inside. His suicide was the only way he saw left to rid himself and the world of that darkness.
I find peace in my firm belief that my Father was at peace, not only upon his death, but in the moments leading up to it. He was resolved. He had clarity. He knew his suffering and his perceived burden on his family and the world were almost over. He had no fight left and he could see the light. “When I die, hallelujah by and by, I’ll fly away.”
He was free, finally.
It seems like every moderate-sized or larger organization has one (at least one). It’s that department or that leader who for the sake of covering their own backside, and ostensibly that of the organization, is far more incentivized to say “no” than “yes” (or even “maybe” for that matter).
In some places it is an entire department. It’s HR; it’s legal or compliance; it’s IT. (There are certainly more. These are just the ones I have experienced.)
Everything in the design of these departments, in their incentive structure, in the skills of their people, in their intended, or de facto, role in the larger organization leads to “no.” And, technically, there’s nothing wrong with it. They keep the organization out of trouble. They keep it doing things that they know are already acceptable, safe, compliant, evidence-based, industry standards.
In other places, it’s a particular leader. The psychoanalysis of this type of leadership is far too complex for this blog, but please just note the issue. In terms of innovation in your organization, the result is the same. Status quo.
The chronic “no” problem for your organization is strategic, and strategy should be forward-looking.
Is the rote answer “no” helping your organization get where it needs to go? Does “no” help you innovate? Does “no” keep you nimble and adaptable to inevitable changes in the field? Does “no” help you listen to your employees more openly? Does “no” help you listen to your clients? Does “no” help you try new technologies? Probably not. (Some might even say “no.”)
For all of these to happen, the organization must be willing to take on risk, to expose itself to what it doesn’t know, not merely cover its backside based on what it does.
My goal here is to raise a flag for organizational leaders, not to bash these departments (although maybe to highlight those all-“no”ing individuals).
Leaders, do you have a “no” department? Be honest. Do you know if you have a “no” department? Be honest! Do you have a “no” man or woman?
What it boils down to: Is your organization strategically aligned? Have you instilled all of your departments with the people, the power, and the shared vision to help move your organization forward? Do your leaders share the same vision and have the right skills, dispositions, and incentives to take you there?
If you are not aligned, then the “no’s” may cover you for now, but bury you in time.
Strategic information in organizations can be paired down to two primary types: 1. what I (the employee) want or need to know, and 2. what the organization wants or needs me to know. Sometimes they are the same. Often they are not.
In fact, if they are the same, you probably have a strong culture and decent communication strategy, articulating a clear and engaging message and delivering it effectively.
But, for many of us (if we are honest), that sort of alignment is still an aspiration.
Often organizations are predominantly either want-to-know organizations or need-to-know organizations.
Want-to-knows pride themselves on being highly participatory and democratic. They want their people involved and they believe in the knowledge of their people to drive their work. Anything “top-down” can even be taboo.
Need-to-know organizations invest specifically in top-down models of information flow. Given the “right” information, their people will execute and the end result will be effective and efficient performance. The premise, although probably packaged differently, is: “we’ll just tell you what you need to know.”
In the extreme (which I have seen both), neither works. Want-to-knows can be so “organic” and participatory that the direction of the organization is perpetually unclear, and roles and responsibilities (even deliverables) become uncertain. Everyone is involved but little gets done. Despite the intention of building a positive and engaging culture, frustration slowly brews as clarity and execution wanes.
Alternatively, need-to-knows risk alienating their people and losing the leverage of their “local” knowledge. As people adapt to narrow sources of information from the top, their confidence in themselves and those closest to them breaks down. Deference to others for decision-making sets in. The organization becomes inefficient and slow to respond to its environment. People stay really busy but don’t seem to get much done.
So, if you build a communication strategy, whether for an entire organization, a division, or a department, you have to be courageous enough to let your people speak and smart enough to listen for understanding. You also have to be bold enough to have a clear voice and articulate a compelling direction for your people to rally behind.
Your organizational information flow is constant; whether or not it is strategic or qualifies as communication is up to you.