Roofs, motorcycles, and the Middle Ages

Photo of a gray roof with gable peaks against a blue skyBack when I was in college, a group of us decided to climb up onto the roof of one of the dorms to watch the sun rise.

These were old three-story stone buildings with steeply-pitched roofs. (No, we weren’t drunk!)

What possessed us, I have no idea, but we did it, and we all got back down safely. Chalk it up to one of those weird things one does when one is young and foolish – and somehow gets away with.

Two of our neighbors have motorcycles. One of them just got his a week or two ago. He started out riding it with helmet. The other day, as I was on the way back from walking our dog, he zoomed past bare-headed.

In the Middle Ages, the Black Death killed roughly a third of the population of Europe. The art of the time – and looking back again to my college days, I took an art history class on this – was heavily influenced by what they called “memento mori”: reminders that someday, you will die.

Everyone develops an awareness of their own mortality at different ages.

I think we’re in a time now – certainly not as desperate as the Black Death, but similar in some ways – where we are more aware of our own mortality than we were just a few years ago (the lack of motorcycle helmets notwithstanding). Just about everyone knows someone who’s had covid, and many of us know someone who’s died from the virus.

And every parent of school-age children is wondering … will my kid’s school be next?

We are remembering death. And it’s having an impact on every employee in one way or another, but especially the first-line managers.

Managers have borne a tremendous responsibility

Managers are in a tough position, now more than ever before.

Photo of two gray rocks leaning together with a brown egg balanced in the middleThey have always been the bridge between leadership and the individual employees, the conduit for communication and strategy, stuck between their boss’s needs and requirements and their team members’ performance and realities – or you could say, stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

They’ve had to support their teams as everyone fled to home offices – and as some got sick, or had family members who got sick. They’ve had to support themselves through the same experiences.

They’ve needed the sensitivity to respond to George Floyd’s murder and Black Lives Matter, grieving employees, home-schooling children, endless Zoom calls, the violence of January 6th, ongoing political upheaval, gun violence – I could go on, but I’m depressing myself and probably you too.

And through it all, they’ve had to keep making sure the work got done, one way or another.

“People are threadbare”

That’s a quote from DEI consultant Chantalle Couba.

Managers are especially threadbare. They need your support.

Over and over again, I hear from the managers I talk with, coach, teach – they feel lonely and burned out. They are, as I suggested earlier, feeling stuck in the middle with no, or very few, resources.

You can help

It’s not hard, and it doesn’t take a huge effort or a lot of money.

It does take awareness, care, and commitment.

Awareness to recognize that you can make a difference.

Care to decide what to do.

Commitment to follow through.


  • Write thank-you notes. Or just say “thank you.”
  • Give genuine recognition.
  • Ask how are you – really? (And then listen to the answer.)
  • Ask what support would be helpful. (And then listen to the answer!)

Download my resource “Leadership Development on a Shoestring Budget” for more ideas. Click here to get it.

Uncertainty is the new black

Uncertainty isn’t going away. In truth, it’s always been with us; it’s just that these last few years have rubbed our noses in its reality.

We could skate by when things were more stable. We could let our first-line managers figure things out, sink or swim on their own.

Those times are over. If we want organizations to succeed, whether large or small, public or private, for-profit or non-profit, we need to attend to our first-line managers.

I’m opening the doors on a Community for first-line managers: a Community of Practice, Learning, and Experience, offering first-line managers the support they need. Check it out.