By Scott Weighart, Director of Learning & Development

In 1999, I attended the memorial service for a fiction writing teacher I had worked with earlier in the decade.  Felicia Lamport was funny, sharp, playful, and blunt—all great qualities in her role.  She was also humble.  She liked to tell her classes that she had once written a book that had made the New York Times bestseller list—“for one week… in last place,” she said with a smile.

I thought I knew her pretty well, but I learned quite a bit more from a very memorable eulogy at the service.  The speaker had known Felicia for years, and he told us of one of her interesting quirks.   If you ever asked her how she was doing, her response was always the same: “Never better”. 

The guy thought nothing of this when he first met her.  It seemed about the same as saying “Fine,” as most of us do when someone asks how we’re doing.   But over time, of course, he saw her through many of difficult health battles that she faced.  She had survived many long hospital stays.   I knew something about these.  Once I got a phone call from her daughter the day before our class: She had fallen and suffered a concussion… but had instructed her daughter to call me to fill in for her as the guest instructor for the day. 

In the eulogy, the speaker described visiting her many times at the hospital.  The question “How are you?” became increasingly serious.  But she still would respond the same way:  “Never better.”

It wasn’t a case of denial.  Pressed for details, she would offer a matter-of-fact description of her latest health challenge and what was being done about it.  But it was just the facts—no “why me?” and no self-pity. The tone was always “It is what it is.”

He then shared a very personal story.  He actually visited her in the last week of her life. She’d had a severe stroke.  She was confined to bed and partially paralyzed.

He sat down next to her deathbed.  He hesitated, but then said, “Felicia…. How are you?”

She looked him with the old familiar glint in the eye.  “Never better,” she said.

He sighed and said to her, “I was hoping you would say that.”

“And I didn’t disappoint you,” she replied.

Thinking of it now, I see the connection to organizational leadership, we all face adversity in our lives as business leaders. Deals fall through.  Change initiatives prove to be less than transformational.   There will always be disappointments, tough calls, and regrets.

In the face of it, your teams need you to be honest and real… but hopeful.  If you’re looking for a philosophy of life, I think you could do worse than choosing Felicia’s response to whatever obstacle you face.  Acknowledge and embrace the challenges.  If you do, your outlook will be the same as hers: Never better. 

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