If I were to name the one book that had the single biggest impact on my life and leadership, it would be Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. I was fortunate enough to have been given this book as a first-time leader.
I vividly remember how profound it was for me to think about the ability to choose a response to what was happening around me, even when what was happening wasn’t within my control. I was in my early twenties, and nothing like this was ever taught to me before.
Viktor Frankl was a prisoner in the Auschwitz concentration camp during WW II who survived torture and incredible loss. He is credited with saving the lives of many fellow prisoners by helping them understand that despite the fact that the Nazis took away everyone and everything they loved in the world, their captors couldn’t take away how they felt or saw themselves.
Because I witnessed this incredible journey through Frankl’s written words, strength, and methodology, I dove deep into my own passion for examining our “inner lives” and understanding the impact they have on our “outer lives.” Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our happiness.”
I never lost connection with Frankl’s words, and my visit to Auschwitz a year before the pandemic only strengthened his story’s impact on me. I couldn’t fathom what he was able to endure and survive. It felt so important to me to bear witness to the lives lost and to honor Frankl and all those who were in the camps. Being there was a life-changing experience and one that I think about every week since I returned.
With the advances and recent research in neuroscience, we now know with proof that our inner world—our thoughts and mental models—shape how we experience and interact with the outer world. Our thoughts, our mood, and our energy affect others, even when we’re quiet.
To me, this connectivity between our inner and outer lives is mind-blowing. As leaders, we have so much power and, therefore, so much responsibility to look within, care for, and understand our inner world. Every word, mood, email, sigh, exhale, presentation, text has an impact on others.
But this awareness doesn’t mean we have to be rosy every day as leaders. Vulnerability, authenticity, and truth resonate with others and have a profound impact on everyone’s sense of safety and ability to trust. Getting highly skilled at self-regulation and reflection skills is a key responsibility if you’re leading people.
We literally can make or break our team’s day by our inner thoughts and outer actions. We cast a very long shadow, and as one leader once said to me, “We affect the weather in the room.” If you haven’t read Frankl’s story yet, I highly recommend it. It will change the way you think about your impact on others at work and in life.