Where Leaders Come to Think

Avoiding Leadership Apathy




The angry-looking bullies had this young man surrounded in the hallways of my school.  They were pushing him, mocking him and ready to elevate the encounter to a good old-fashioned butt whooping.

That’s when I could take no more.  Something inside of me rose-up; I felt this boy’s pain and took action.  Rather than being a passing spectator I rushed the crowd.

Pushing three of the boys to the ground I pinned two up against the walls by their necks. My words were firm shouted with conviction.  “From this day on you “friggin” mess with him – you mess with me!”

(I changed the language to G-Rated for when my kids read this post.) 

I’m not sure what that was about.  I did not know the individual being bullied.  My life was simple, safe and comfortable.  However, something about seeing him being picked on made my stomach turn.  I was a lot of things in Jr. High School – Apathetic, was not one of them.

This week as I reflect on what’s going on in the world I found myself trying to stuff my emotions down.  The Mayan’s have predicted the end of the world on Saturday, School shootings are getting worse and more cold-blooded; the economic situation is being described as a “cliff”, and I feel the uncertainty in the economy every day at work. Instead of rushing the crowd I’m tempted to become apathetic.  Tempted to become desensitized and push injustice aside for the moment.

That’s when I realized that, as a leader, I must fight against becoming apathetic because the world is in need of people who are brave enough to care.

“I have a very strong feeling that the opposite of love is not hate – it’s apathy. It’s not giving a damn.” – Leo Buscaglia

Leaders can be tempted to take the path of apathy unless we are directly involved in the tragedy. I am reminded that pain is real and so is the need for everyday leadership.  This is why I am convinced that there must be a better way to deal with the crap without losing heart.

An apathetic leader is no leader at all.

While I’m not perfect at my personal response to tragedies. Here is my three-step plan to insuring my heart and mind stay in the game. I call it the AT&T approach.

  1. Acknowledge the Pain.  First and foremost don’t shut down.  We need to learn to acknowledge the pain. Feel it without owning it.  To be in the moment and allow our inner person to grieve, get angry and truly feel.  Many times it’s an emotional response that causes us to drive a stake in the ground and make change. The biggest and best changes in life happen in a single minute
  2. Treat the Pain.  Next, we need to treat the pain.  We can’t change the world so once we allow ourselves to go there we must seek assistance.  For me, treating the pain means praying – and lots of it.  For others, it could mean counseling, coffee with a friend, or writing out how you feel.  My friend started writing again after 20 years.  She said writing is her best counselor.  I get it.  Whatever it means to you treat the hurt don’t let it linger.
  3. Take a Positive Action. Finally, don’t just sit there – take a positive action.  Trust your instinct about what that means to you. It doesn’t have to be huge, but it might be.  I’m reminded of the power of love.  That it’s a leader’s job to stand in the gap of injustice.,   I also realize its best to be proactive not reactive when it comes to the big problems of life.

The kid I rushed the crowd for called me often for a while. He had no friends.  The fact was he was hurting. Struggling with deep issues of the heart and mind.  Soon after, he received professional help.  He talked of a list and had access to guns and ammo. I wonder? Thank goodness we will never know.

In the wake of so much pain and uncertainty, I am reminded to lead well no matter how much it might hurt.

You can listen to this post via podcast by clicking here: Avoiding Leadership Apathy

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  1. Dennis

    I was doing some research on apathy when I came to this page. I must admit, you made a comment that said, “The world is in need of people who are brave enough to care.” That just sent me for a loop. Wow.

  2. Gary Korisko
    Gary Korisko12-20-2012

    Amen that the opposite of love is apathy.

    And I’d agree that ‘not giving a damn’ is the root cause of most of the current troubles we’re facing. We need more people to stand up and say, “no more” when we see something that is obviously wrong.

    Thanks for the reminder, Mark! Enjoyed this one!

    • Mark Mathia
      Mark Mathia12-20-2012

      Thank you Gary. That’s what I like about you – you’re a “no more” kind of guy. It’s also what I love about your blog, Reboot Authentic. Practical and Powerful.

      • Gary Korisko
        Gary Korisko12-20-2012

        Thanks for the kind words, Mark.

        The big day is coming. Launch is on Dec. 27th and I have some big stuff planned. I might even solicit your help to be a judge in a giveaway if you’re willing. 🙂

  3. Kelly Combs
    Kelly Combs12-20-2012

    This side of heaven you won’t know the amount of the impact you had, but I suspect it was huge. What a brave young man you were. What an honorable man you are.

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