You never know who someone is, what they believe, or where they have been until you “strike a chord” and get a response. Whether you are a refugee, movie star, or a business leader, when the spark occurs, your emotions may flame into a burn that is more than you imagined!. A spark becomes a flame, and a flame eventually becomes embers. One starts with a flash and the other ends with a whisper.

As Dante Alighieri said, “A mighty flame followeth a tiny spark.”

In 2020, I learned about my family, it was my spark, and here is my story!

During the pandemic, my cousin spent his mandated “stay at home” time delving into ancestry.com to learn about our maternal family history. We gathered pictures and letters that had been sitting in boxes in the attic for years to help start his journey. He translated letters from our native tongue, learned about our lost family, and wrote a book to honor their heritage and story. My grandparents were born in a Polish town named Mizocz, they were the only ones that fled to the “promised land,” the United States. Fortunate members of the family fled to Rovno in Ukraine, and others were massacred in the town as part of the Holocaust in 1942. All that remains of Mizocz, now a part of Ukraine, is a memorial to mark the spot where a town once existed.

Once I read the book and met my ancestors in the pages, I understood why there was no conversation about my family history. The pain would be too great. A professor at University of Ukraine is translating the book so that this story, like so many others, will never be forgotten. He is in Kyiv, when the sirens sound, he goes into the bomb shelter with his family and continues his work. The emotional tie to this part of the world was not “real” to me until the start of the war in Ukraine. These are my roots, the flame burns, and emotions run high.

We are all dealing with emotions coming from war, rising prices or just trying to get back to some sense of “normal” while balancing work and family. It is no wonder the incidence of depression and anxiety have gone up significantly in the last years.

Knowing this is the world we live in today, what can you do as a business leader to support your team?

  • Get to know your people. Talk to them, find out what is going on in their lives, and ask how they are doing?
  • If behavior has changed, find out why? Do not jump to conclusions, instead, ask and listen. If you learn they are having difficulties, ask what you can do to help? Here is an example:

I recently had a conversation with a business leader who is traditionally very stoic and direct, a “no nonsense” person. He said, “A few weeks ago, you mentioned you had to make a hard decision concerning your dog. I did not appreciate your recent experience until I had to go through the same with mine. I am sorry. Before, when someone told me they had a sick cat or dog, I was not patient or caring. I never understand how much it hurts, now I do.” The leader started to cry, and then spent time telling me about the role this dog played in his life and the impact that has had on his mood and behavior. His emotion was just beneath the surface. I listened and this connection further solidified our relationship.

  • Identify external resources. Have confidential resources available to support people through tough times. Offer these resources or direct the employee to someone who can provide this information. Be compassionate and communicate the priority is for the employee to get the assistance they need. Thank the employee for their honesty and vulnerability, as they may perceive this as a sign of weakness or a “career limiting move.”
  • Provide time away. If the employee requires time away, direct them to someone who can provide information to determine if they are eligible for FMLA, disability, vacation, etc. and how to access those programs. If the employee does not choose to take time, provide personal support, and encourage follow-up conversations. Reinforce the employee’s value in the role, department, and company and discuss expectations.
  • Honor the situation. Ask if/how they will share their situation with other employees? If they choose not to share, honor their request, and encourage them to communicate confidentially with people that “need to know” based on company policy.
  • Recognize progress. Encourage and celebrate even the smallest steps as they are a leap of progress for the employee.

It takes a humble and vulnerable person to admit when they are facing a spark, starting to burn, and need help. It takes a heart-centered leader to recognize the spark and help extinguish the flame.

There are two ways of spreading light: to be the flame or the mirror that receives it.”   Edith Wharton