Truly Collaborative. True Leadership

I’ve  recently talking to a whole bunch of people re: how best to strengthen addictions services in Waterloo Region (about an hour west of Toronto) for an organization called House of Friendship (HoF).

Throughout the project, people have been talking excitedly about a new, much-needed space scheduled to open this July that will house HoF’s residential treatment services, day treatment programming and counselling for people concerned about their substance use.

Yesterday morning, I saw a Tweet about a fire at the construction site of that new facility. The cause of the early morning blaze is still under investigation, but the damage is extensive.

John Neufeld is the Executive Director of House of Friendship and someone I greatly appreciate. He has an incredible gift for encouraging people and is a community-minded, collaborative leader. It’s been my privilege to work with him on multiple projects in recent years.

To give you a taste of what I mean, when John first called me about a project a few years ago, I had to turn it down. It was a six-month strategic planning assignment and I was going to be away on sabbatical for three of those months. Thanks, but no thanks. John called me back a few minutes later and said, “I’ve heard you are my person and I don’t want to be that guy. You are doing an exciting thing with your family, and I don’t want to take work off your plate because of it. Let’s work around your schedule.” He became one of my favourite clients in that moment, and we hadn’t even met yet! Now that we have, he continues to top my list.

When I heard about the fire, I was shaken and so saddened. I sent a quick text to John, letting him know how sorry I was.

Last night, I received an email that impressed me enough that I decided to include it in this week’s blog. It’s an example of how a leader committed to positivity and collaboration continues to display those qualities even when under enormous stress. Here’s the message:

Dear Fellow Community Leaders,

I have long had a strong suspicion that we get to serve with truly amazing community leaders. Today you completely shredded any bits of doubt. THANK YOU for your kind words and willingness to help. This afternoon we shared with our whole House of Friendship team the kind of support and encouragement you gave, and they were incredibly moved and encouraged.

The hardest part of today was receiving an email from a mother who lost her daughter to addiction last year. She wrote, “I just wanted to tell you how sorry I am about the fire. My family members were on duty last night and helped knock it down. Many of us that are fighting for these services are beyond devastated. I would like to offer myself to volunteer either there or at any location. Doesn’t matter what you need I would love to help just point me in the right direction.”

When we shared the news with our program participants in the day treatment program, they told us to keep going and were so sorry and gave us “their condolences.”

With the strength of the individuals and families we have the privilege to serve and your support, we will move forward courageously. THANK YOU for walking with us during this time. We truly are stronger together and incredibly grateful for each of you!

We can and we will rebuild!

With gratitude,

I expected an appeal for funds. It would have been understandable and even welcome on a devastating day like yesterday. Nope. What I got was lots of “we” language, stories of impact, commitment to a vision, and a whole bunch of gratitude. An authentic message from a man who walks that talk.

Lots of us use the terms “collaboration” and “leadership” — here’s what they look like in practice. When our resources and plans are threatened, it’s so easy to circle the wagons, panic a little, whine a lot, and make it about us, isn’t it? I’m grateful for John’s resolve to withstand that temptation and to remain publicly committed to collective community action and to hope.

I am confident beauty will rise from these ashes. I trust by sharing John’s beautiful example with all of you, I’m accelerating that process even a little bit.

PS – I wouldn’t normally post on the blog until early next week, given my usual biweekly cadence. This one felt time-specific. In the spirit of “wiser decisions faster,” which I hope this is, you’re getting it today. Have a great weekend!

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