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Lessons from Loss

We had a standing meeting each Tuesday at 11:00AM. Until suddenly, we didn’t.

On our last Zoom meeting, Bryan was pale and had lost more weight. Still, he looked at me and said he thought he was besting this disease that had been relentlessly taking one toll after another. He smiled. I tried to believe him. 

The next week, I logged on at 11:00AM. One minute passed. Two. My gut started churning. Three minutes. Four. I started fidgeting. Five. Intuitively, I had a horrible feeling. Bryan didn’t show up that day. 

Hours later I got a call. Bryan was gone. 

And so early. Sixty-one. One of the wisest and most gentle yet powerful human beings I have ever known was gone. And at a time when we so need the wise ones. The ones who integrate and connect life lessons over time, the ones who see three dimensionally so that people and dreams can move forward. That ability is so rare. Lots of planners. Lots of talkers. Not many knowers or seers.

But Bryan was a knower. He saw people. He saw me. 

In our first year working together, I remember gathering around a big corporate table to share about some start-up challenges. I shaped and cleaned up the issues with words that conveyed the data. The people at the table listened and took notes. The head of the group nodded and said he understood and would have handled the situation the same way. I exhaled. The meeting began to wind down.

But a few moments later Bryan looked directly at me and said, “so what really happened?” Others turned to look at me again. Bryan explained that trust was based on authenticity not “clean” reports. He said that while he agreed with how things had been resolved, he also realized that on a scale of one to ten, given the conversation we had just had, our relationship or level of trust with one another was at a two. He wondered aloud if we could move toward an eight. I sat there tongue-tied while his kind yet knowing eyes waited. Eventually, he asked if we could go to lunch and spend some time getting to know one another better. 

Who was this person? What had just happened in there? 

At lunch that day we began a relationship that would change my life and the way I look at life and relationships. I had five years of working with Bryan. I loved him. I trusted him completely. I had not had a work relationship like that one in my life. Yet, he insisted that the sort of relationship we had didn’t need to be unique; it could be possible for many work relationships. That belief formed the foundation of what would become the InnerSections program. 

There are many people in the “leadership” arena these days. Lots of writing and talking. But one of the things Bryan said early on in our work together was, “You have to be what you are talking or writing about.” My, how that changes things. You move from just reporting about neuroscience or case studies or shaping “the five things you need to do in order that…” to deep soul searching and personal accountability. 

I’ve learned that when words don’t match actions, there isn’t trust. And when there isn’t trust…there will be disorder and a lack of cohesion for vision and teams. Through the years when teams and companies aren’t functioning well, I’ve come to look first at the decision makers…are they living/doing what they are saying/asking? Typically, it all begins or falls apart or ramps up right there. 

“I’d like our relationship to be more of an eight.” 

Thank you, Bryan, for the direct, made-me-sweat, invitation. No one had ever cared or knew enough to frame an opportunity like that one. And thank you my friend and mentor for always being just what you were talking about. You changed my life and helped shape a program. Your essence will live on.

It has been a long year and a half of loss. I have written about the things we have learned and the ways we are stronger. And I stand by all of that, but there has been loss and it has been deeply painful. The world is not the same. We are fundamentally different. With Bryan’s death, comes the end of the Decurion Institute and the need to reshape the work of InnerSections. We will find a way forward for the work. The loss of a wise one…will leave a huge hole. 

I still have the weekly reminder for our meeting in my calendar. Tuesday, 11:00AM with Bryan Ungard. I’ve decided to leave the reminder and meeting time there for a while and to take those moments to sit with lessons and energy and memories I have of him. Energy doesn’t cease to exist. Neither do the lessons learned which have and will continue to shape us. For this, I am grateful.


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