Photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash
The other day I go for an early 8am coffee with a client. The HR director of a large charity, she has kindly agreed to meet me to explain why they have decided not to go ahead with my proposal for a leadership programme in nature.
Circumstances have changed. They’ve just done a 360. It has thrown up some unexpected stuff and the CEO has decided to go with a different plan.
It’s fine, I understand. And anyway I appreciate that she cares enough to explain this face to face.
Over coffee we have a wide-ranging discussion about culture, and the challenges and tensions of an organisation that has frontline support staff and also a retail arm, with different issues, different needs, and different personalities.
And then she mentions homelessness.
That’s when things take an unexpected turn.
For some reason I’m compelled to tell her what happened the day before. A visit to a meditation class has kickstarted my on-again-off-again resolution to be more generous to the growing number of people begging on the high street.
On my way to get some lunch, there's a toothless guy sitting on the pavement by the Barclays cashpoint, as I drop some coins into his hand, I ask him how it’s going.
“Not so good,” he says, slowly taking his other hand out from under his coat. I am totally shocked. His left hand is huge and swollen and covered with a nasty-looking large red and purple welt.
“Woah,” I say, involuntarily taking a step back, not prepared for what he’s showing me.
“That looks serious… Are you okay? How’d it happen?”
“Something bit me in the tent last night,” he says.
Something?! In the tent?! Many things go through my mind. I am genuinely concerned.
“You really need to go to hospital,” I say.
“I know,” he says. “I need to get enough money first.”
I’m unsure what to do. Should I call an ambulance? Go with him to the hospital? Ask someone for help?
I want to do something, but I feel totally utterly helpless.
“How much more do you need?”
“£7,” he says.
I decide to go get the cash and I give it to him, making him promise me that he will go to hospital. “I will,” he says, but two hours later he’s still there, still asking for money.
As I retell the story to my client, the feeling of helplessness comes over me again. Of not knowing what to do or who to call.
She is not judging, “you gave him a choice,” she says.
Her words touch something and I am unable to hold back the emotion as it rises up inside me, and I start to sob.
My client is kind, but... I'm feeling 'Awkward'! This was meant to be where I present my best trustworthy self, and we do some business.
Instead, I leave feeling raw and vulnerable.
This is starting to happen to me more often. The work I'm doing now - connecting people with each other and nature - is probably the most meaningful, heartfelt thing I've ever done. And the armour is coming off.
In my introduction at a leaders campfire, hearing the lovely feedback at the end of a successful team building day in the woods, in presentations, at a talk I gave at Summercamp last year, the tears come and catch me unawares.
Most of my life I've not been so openly emotional. I don't seem to be able to do that any more.
What I’m doing means so much to me, it’s getting a bit too emotional.
We're told to show up as our fullest self at work if we want to lead authentically.
The thing is, is that okay?
ps Bloody hell. My client read this and sent me back an even lovelier email. Set me off again.
Author & Curator
Nigel Berman is the founder of School of the Wild.