I, like everyone else who is of a certain age, remember exactly where I was on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. Similarly to the day President Kennedy was shot, the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle, or the days my children were born, these points in time are burnt into my memory. In each case, time seemed to slow to a crawl.
On the day now known as 9-11, I was with a client in Chicago facilitating a cross-functional team on problem solving and implementing change. A session participant received a phone call from his wife and thereby we learned of the unfolding events. A television was turned on and we watched the second tower hit. I looked at one of my session's participants and said, "This can only be bin Laden. He is the only one with the resources and terrible intentions to do this." I had seen several newscasts on bin Laden's involvement in the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Since I had flown to Chicago especially for this meeting and eight managers had set aside the morning, we tried to continue our work. However, our minds were elsewhere and after 45 minutes we canceled the meeting. Later, I met with the company owners. Our topic was obviously overshadowed also. Instead, I suggested the owners walk through the offices and the plant to listen to the concerns, fears, and emotions of the men and women who worked for the company. I returned to my hotel room and struggled for 25 hours to find a rental car to drive back to Ohio.
Years passed and many of us couldn't understand how a man 6 feet 6 inches tall was invisible and still filming periodic videos.
On May 2, 2011, my wife, Carol, awakened me and she informed me of the death of bin Laden. At first I couldn't believe it. Then the reality sunk in. Finally, a piece of America's most terrible history was over.
Tragic events in our personal or professional lives and sometimes with international events leave marks on our view of the world. The destruction of the World Trade Buildings and the death of bin Laden are =one threw our world into disarray. The second one created a sense of closure.
Repeated change and closure is the constant challenge of leadership. Change can be thrust upon us by external forces or chosen for specific, strategic reasons. At some point people need to adopt the change or realize closure or both. Leaders need to direct us to review past changes and the successes achieved as a result of them. This review can give us confidence that we can succeed with future significant emotional events. Changes that fail or are abandoned should also be reviewed to assess key learnings. Change is seldom easy, but it is an increasing part of our lives given globalization and the advancement of technology.
R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray's new book, "Tons of Stone above my head: Coal Mining Stories with Leadership Lessons," visit his Web site, www.raycomlearning.com. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.