Showing Up Is Key

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A third lesson from Axia Women's first six months: Everybody is going through stuff. We need to show up for each other.

In Axia alone, over six months, three of us lost mothers (and one member lost both her mother and her job). Three of us have been dealing with family members’ health issues that have involved a lot of disruptive hospital testing or surgery. Some of us have frail elderly parents or in-law who require our time, and others have special-needs children. There have been ups and down in relationships. One of us, despite her already over-loaded work and volunteer schedule, was obliged to attend no fewer than fourteen weddings. One has been settling into a new job, another a new calling. Several of us have been traveling near and far--one even spent a few hours on an aircraft carrier! One went on a multi-week pilgrimage.

In volunteer organizations, it’s especially apparent when people are experiencing difficulties. In our day jobs, we may hesitate to admit to our colleagues or bosses that our children or parents are sick, that our child that needs therapy, that we’re pregnant, that our spouse or partner is in crisis and needs full-time attention. In a volunteer organization, you hear most of that—and it is a blessing, believe me, to get a glimpse of what someone is really going through. What are we here for if not to lift each other up? Doing that, though, calls for authenticity from everyone—the people who need support and the people giving it. It means that you have to be able to pivot and spread the load.

A corollary to that is: leaders need support. I’ve been a parish council president in two communities and learned first-hand how little practical or moral support people think to offer—and how exhausting that is. That’s one of the reasons that, at the end of Axia Women’s first board meeting, we agreed that when one of us called, we’d pick up the phone if at all possible. In my experience, everyone has held to that, and it has been magic for getting things done. How far could we all go if we knew we had a roomful of great people who had our back?

Patricia Fann Bouteneff is president of Axia Women.

Patricia Bouteneff