Trick or treat?

Today seemed an appropriate moment to consider trick or treating. Not the type which involves small scarily-dressed children repeatedly ringing the doorbell until they are given sweets. Rather, the decisions we make about our responses to other people. Do we trick? Or treat?

In Nietzsche’s words, to live is to suffer. In different ways, to different extents, and with different reasons, everyone suffers sometimes. Leaders often see the effects of this, and the response they have to suffering is both noticed and amplified across organisations.

So, as a leader, how do you decide your repose to pain? To trick, or to treat?

The easy answer might be always to treat - to take a compassionate view of the situation and responding with kindness for another human being. This isn’t always possible, and may not even been appropriate. If kindness reinforces a victim position, casting the leader in a rescuer role, then it may be in the best interests of all concerned to choose a different, more enabling response.

Noticing our preferences is a useful initial step - do you notice pain where others might not, or do you need it to be highly visible before you become aware of it? Is your response to rush in to help, or to stay back, or even hope the issue resolves itself? These examples are, of course, scales along which there are a multitude of possibilities. There’s no right answer, no one way to be, and no perfect response to any situation. Awareness of our own preferences, and how these might simultaneously assist and impede us, is a useful lens through which to consider our own behaviour and choices.

If you always have a treat, how will you ever know the squeamish horror of a trick...and if there are only tricks, when do you taste the intense sweetness of a treat? Perhaps the leadership ‘trick’ lies in balance:

“Your hand opens and closes, opens and closes. If it were always a fist or always stretched open, you would be paralysed. Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding, the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated as birds' wings.”