The first way of dealing with the heartbreak of leadership is simply to stay shallow. Basically just avoid it altogether.
This parallels the reason many people never seem to find the love they crave in a relationship — they’re unwilling to expose themselves to the vulnerability of having their heart broken, and consequently, they can only love (and be loved) so deeply.
In terms of leadership, this leads to facilitative leadership. Performance management, a focus on results, etc. Things might get done, but people rarely transform.
The second way of dealing with the heartbreak is to get swept away by it. This kind of leader stays open-hearted, but has no capacity to find themselves and their sovereignty in the midst of all that heartbreak.
People caught in this strategy tend to find leadership rapidly leads them down the path of burnout.
They can’t bear the experience of letting their direct report struggle as they discover their own way, and so the leader steps in and “helps” them. Micromanagement, a scarcity of time, and feeling like everyone needs them all at once are the hallmarks of this approach to dealing with heartbreak.
The third way of dealing with the heartbreak is to become calloused and close your heart to it.
Heartbreak is hard to be with, so this approach basically aimS to do the work of leadership, without actually feeling the devastation. Like an impenetrable wall, you’ll be able to deliver the bad news and make the tough decisions, but you won’t have to feel the heartbreak that comes along with them. Unsurprisingly, people won’t really feel you either.
Down this path, the leader will get the job done, but their impact will be diminished. We can only impact the world to the extent we are willing to let the world impact us.
Because people experience these kinds of leaders cold and heartless, they’re unlikely to really open their own hearts and expose themselves to the kind of vulnerability transformation requires. Consequently, these leaders tend to generate results and are reliable to take action, but rarely cause transformation.
The fourth and final approach is: given leadership is filled with heartbreak, learn how to open your heart, experience and feel that heartbreak, and do so without it destroying you.
This is the hardest of the four paths. The only way to learn how to be with heartbreak is to be with heartbreak. This path requires a willingness to open your heart, only to then have the world break it.
As you recover from the devastation of loving and being hurt, you start to learn to trust yourself. You discover that your heart is much more resilient than you ever imagined, and you start to see the gift and purification that comes from the grief of heartbreak.
As you develop this muscle — this willingness to let yourself be heartbroken — a couple of things happen. First, you discover that being heartbroken, while never fun, is not as significant as you once thought it was. Second, because of your increased ability to simply be with heartbreak, you no longer need to protect yourself from it as was once the case.
And as a result of these last two things, over time you release the need to protect your heart from what the world may provide. You simply open your heart bigger and wider to the rest of the world.
This is the path of transformation.