Tears welled up in Shelly’s eyes as she told me about her boss’ sacrifice. Shelly was stuck in a no-win situation. She managed a highly-complex nursing unit with too few resources, too many demands and too much emotional energy being sucked out of her by a chronic bullying issue.
Kate, my boss came to me and said, ‘I’m carrying your pager for the next six weeks while you get things straightened out. I’ll let you know what you need to respond to and I’ll take care of the rest. What kind of a boss does something like that?!”
In short, only big people do things like that. Scott Peck unpacks the concept of human enlargement in The Road Less Traveled*. Psychologists say that when “we are attracted to, invest in and commit to an object outside ourselves 'we actually cathect it' We psychologically incorporate a representation of that object into ourselves.' In the process of cathexis, we extend the boundaries of our personhood by stretching out toward the object of our love whose growth we wish to nurture.”
My neighbor Mary-Catherine is a gardener who loves her garden. When she’s at work and takes a break for lunch she pulls out her Lee Valley catalogue and studies the gardening section. On rainy days she’s creating sketches of how she envisions her garden to be. In a very real way, Mary-Catherine has incorporated the garden within her, and by this incorporation her self has become enlarged. She is not only Mary-Catherine anymore, she is Mary-Catherine with a garden growing inside her.
Those of us who are parents have experienced this first-hand. I am not only a person, I am a person with children and grandchildren living inside me. Through cathexis - being attracted to, investing in and committing to the objects of my love I have become a bigger person. In short, love has made me big.
If love enlarges us, think how large Mother Theresa’s soul was. She cathected thousands inside of her. Think how small the soul of a cold, heartless banker who only lives for his own self interests.
I’ve been on a quest to discover a working definition for love. I think maybe there’s one inside this concept of cathexis. My current working definition for love is extending yourself to invest in someone’s highest good.
So back to Shelly’s question, “What kind of a boss carries her employee’s pager for six weeks?” A boss who is attracted to, invested in and committed to the highest good of her employees. In short, a boss with employees living inside of her. It’s only a big person who makes a big boss.
How big are you on the inside? What, or whom do you have living inside of you? If you extend yourself to invest in the highest good of your employees, it is possible that one of them is speaking positively about you right now and asking, “What kind of a boss does something like that?”
*If you haven’t yet read it, pick up Scott Peck’s book The Road Less Traveled. His thoughts on cathexis are on page 52-53 of Love at Work.
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