For the full presentation of Kelly Leonard and Anne Libera’s talk from the 2019 Coca-Cola CMO Summit, listen to the Coca-Cola Summit Podcast.
On Wednesday October 9, Anne Libera and I had the pleasure of providing the closing keynote for the Coca-Cola CMO Leadership Summit at the Intercontinental Hotel in Chicago. I’ve had the pleasure of talking at previous summits and Anne and I were booked to lead an interactive keynote at last year’s summit in Nashville. We had to cancel our appearance when our 16 year old daughter, Nora, got diagnosed with cancer.
When we agreed to appear at this year’s summit, Nora was in treatment at Lurie Children’s Hospital. Anne and I had been very open about what we were going through and how we were using our improvisational skills as well as insights we gained in developing an evidence-based program for caregivers with Caring Across Generations and The Cleveland Clinic to navigate our own daughter’s care journey. The plan had always been to talk about Nora and our work. On August 1, our daughter passed away.
Our friend Kathy Twells, VP of Customer Marketing at Coca-Cola, gave us every chance to back out of the date, and we considered it a number of times. But as Anne and I were slowly building the bridge to return to our work at The Second City, we knew that the journey we experienced had value. We wanted to share our story so that others could learn what worked for us and what didn’t; and knowing how all human beings face loss, maybe we could make someone feel a little less alone.
Jane Dutton and Monica Worline are noted academics who have done quite a bit of research on suffering at work. We had them on Second City Works podcast a while back. They write in their book Awakening Compassion At Work, “Silent suffering colors work… But organizations that create pain can also address it with compassion. In fact, our work shows that the very best organizations, leaders and managers regard this as a fundamental part of their work.”
Anne and I talked about how we managed this journey with deliberate practices that created an ensemble out of our caregivers; how we used improv-based techniques to improve how our caregivers saw both us and Nora; and how we transformed the inevitable mistakes into learning moments rather than moments of defeat. And we led the group through a number of exercises so they could experience the work for themselves.
After the talk, we were surrounded by attendees who had their own stories to share. It was a powerful experience for them and it was a powerful experience for us.