The Leadership Lesson I Learned in the Fight for My Son's Life
It’s 1995. My son is less than 12 months old, has already been hospitalized countless times for pneumonia, and is now infected by Clostridium, a bacterium that is life-threatening for an infant. No medicine is helping him, and the medical staff is preparing me for the loss of a life unless a solution is found.
Earlier that day, I decided to distract myself from this painful thought with a magazine when a tiny column caught my attention. It told a seemingly unrelated story about combating clostridium in cows by using feces as the main ingredient, suggesting that perhaps one day this could be a promising treatment for humans.
I called in the pediatrician. The solution, I saw, was clearly in the poop.
“Check out this research done on cows and you will see it! They take poop from a healthy cow, mix it with salt water, and flush it up you-know-where. Let’s do this on Benjamin!”
The pediatrician's jaw dropped, eyes wide open, looking at me as if I had said something utterly disgusting and unethical, and that I obviously had lost it.
“Mrs. Hausken, we are under no circumstances doing that. I understand you’re bringing up crazy ideas considering the difficult situation. But this is reckless and it cannot be done.”
That first “crazy” thought was my intuition speaking - the small voice that needs no evidence or convincing. However, in the “upper division” (i.e. my head), I heard a very different message that tempted me to keep quiet.
"They are doctors, Rita. They would have known if this were possible. You will look like a nutcase. Who are you to know what’s best?"
Who are you NOT to?
Does this battle between two voices sound familiar?
Coaching women to gain more influence in male-dominated industries, it certainly is a known challenge for me and the brilliant women I see, who time and again unknowingly shut down their most powerful creative powers: intuition and instinct.
Beyond external judgement and perceived limitation, there is an even more dangerous guard keeper. The compelling head voice giving us all the reasons why what we are about to say is irrelevant, that others have much better ideas than us.
As women, it is often the inner critic that is our worst enemy.
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The solution is in the...poop.
While the pediatrician was hesitant and had to consult with others, ultimately he listened to my emotional reasoning. Why? Because I spoke up.
“Doctor, I ask you to do one thing before you make your decision. Please contact this professor in Bergen, tell him what is happening with Benjamin, and ask him what he thinks about testing the treatment out on my son. If for nothing else than to comfort me, please consider it."
I could understand his perspective. In a field where getting it right is truly life or death, he also had fear of looking like an idiot. In the end, he made the call and, with the help of the professor, decided there was nothing to lose and all to win.
So we did it. In a matter of hours, Benjamin was cured. Now, 20+ years later, this procedure is recognized as an effective treatment for this contagious bacterium.
Why does this matter for your leadership?
We all have “poop” we need to work through in our lives to get to life-changing solutions - whether it’s our boss, colleague, partner, or our own perception of ourselves in the world. What’s holding us back from being powerful leaders is our resistance to deal with the “poop.”
To notice it, talk about it, and suggest doing something about it takes immense courage. It takes a deep dive into your gut feeling, getting clear on your core values, and living with clear intentions - in and outside the office.
The processing of cleaning up a few deadly Clostridiums - destructive organisms in our environment - can be a nasty treatment. To challenge the “poop” through fierce conversations and crazy ideas isn’t pleasant. It can, however, save your life.
So, take a moment and reflect: How is your environment? Is it infected with judgement of others and - most deadly - yourself?
Make a list of who in your world is supporting you with healthy feedback, strong support, and the belief that anything is possible. Consider to what extent you hold yourself back before anyone else falsely tells you it cannot be done.
For my son Benjamin, the poop was the environment that would either kill him or create a new future for him. I believe the same goes for us as women with very different solutions to urgent global problems.
[Related: Women's March 2018: Why I Marched Again]
Creating a mindset of “How am I creating this?" is the most effective and efficient path to building the skills of speaking up, taking risks, and trusting our female instincts to unlock innovations. I believe the primal power we access when we fight for our children is the same intuitive clarity we need to bring to our professional leadership - for the success of our organizations and humanity.
Motherly instinct is powerful. It brings out ideas and strengths that are usually hidden behind limiting beliefs, such as, “I’m not good enough." My vision is to inspire women to dare to lean into their most feminine powers and speak up with crazy ideas, regardless of what the inner critic or the external culture thinks of it. The world truly depends on it.
As you reflect on your most uncomfortable leadership challenges, consider these questions: What radical, invasive procedure is needed to transform your most challenging relationships and nurture your organization back to health? Keeping your thoughts and ideas to yourself does not serve the world.
Your ideas are key in creating a sustainable future, and pivotal to your personal success. No one on this planet can claim to have all the right answers. Collectively, we are more likely to find them.
[Related: Can We Count You In?]
Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.
Strategist & Coach
Rita Hausken Leadership Coaching
Rita Hausken is a leadership strategist & coach who partners with women in male dominated industries, helping them communicate confidently so they can share their ideas and create more influence. Rita believes that taking risks, speaking up, sharing ideas, regardless how crazy they might sound and how hard the resistance against it might be, saves lives, and she has her own story to prove it-- personally finding and connecting doctors who were willing to take a... Continue Reading
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