Winter sure dragged on this year, didn’t it? Piles of snow in the East and Midwest well into April—and I mean well into April—got on people’s nerves. Some people were ready for baseball. What do you mean the game was postponed because of snow? (Well, my friend the Cubs fan may have been feeling that way.)
Now we are in May. Surely it’s safe to think of spring and dream of full-on summer soon to come. Have you seen the meme on Facebook that says, “I’m looking forward to summer. I hope it falls on a weekend”?
May. Where I hail from, May Day has a long history, from the Druids to the Gaelics to the Romans adding their bits of rituals. The maypole is probably the most popular, tracing to the Medieval era and still celebrated in some places.
In North America, baskets of flowers and treats were more popular. Then in the late nineteenth century the labor movement in America claimed May 1 to proclaim its agenda of practices that were fair to workers. Primarily the 1886 demonstrations were peaceful, but in Chicago they turned riotous, and a group of workers were unjustly sentenced without evidence linking them to a bombing. Ironically, rather than squelching the movement, this event sparked international recognition of workers in dozens of countries and gave May Day new meaning.
And of course, I would be remiss to talk about May and not mention Mother’s Day, especially because for me one of the most significant events to observe in May is the birthday of my mother, Mary. She was saintly, like so many of our mothers are saintly. My daughter Ava’s middle name is Mary in honor of the grandmother she never got to know.
Before amazing leadership gurus like Peter Drucker and Tom Peters, there was Mary Sheehan (at least as a leader in my life). Even before Mary Sheehan was Mary Parker Follett. Born in 1868, by the early decades of the twentieth century she was a leading voice in management theories, even being sought out by President Theodore Roosevelt. Follett was one of the first women ever invited to address the London School of Economics.
Drucker and Peters hold great esteem for Mary Parker Follett, who was talking about management and generosity in leadership a hundred years ago. She was a strong female voice in what is now considered an appropriate leadership style. In The Creative Experience (1924) Follett said, “Leadership is not defined by the exercise of power but by the capacity to increase the sense of power among those led. The most essential work of the leader is to create more leaders.”
That’s my job. I am a temporary custodian of the role of leading the organization for which I am now responsible. I am to be creating the leaders we need to carry out our mission and strategies in life-changing ways.
A young, female clinician sent me a very direct yet gracious e-mail. “When I first heard of your appointment,” she said, “I thought we hadn’t gone too far out of the box. Slightly middle-aged man.”
Then we met and she changed her opinion. Whew.
Any parent knows their work, beyond being indefatigably enamored of their children, is to prepare their kids for the future. Give them a sense of self. A voice. The truth of knowing what compassion can do. Leadership is about creating the future.
I don’t need to point out during May the honor women deserve, whether for being mothers or for being pioneers in their fields or for being good at the jobs they do every day. They don’t need another slightly middle-aged man to validate them. I only mean to say how grateful I am for Mary Sheehan and Mary Parker Follett for enriching my life, and that when Ava Mary Sheehan grows up, wherever she lands, I hope she will find her place among the sort of diverse cadre of strong female voices I am committed to welcoming at South Shore Mental Health.