My distress grew out of an innocent comment, a remembered passing compliment from an unlikely source to a receptive officer. An easy "thank you for what you do" offered in all sincerity, costing nothing to utter and demanding nothing in return. An example, I was told, of what too few others summoned the energy to attempt. Those few did not include me.
Puzzled, I took this up with my favorite subject matter expert on leadership - my wife Pat. Dinner conversations become seminars, dog walks explorations of theory and practice, victory and defeat. Lessons from soon-to-be Doctor Greer. This one required her level of expertise. I mentioned that the person no longer worked for me and I had allowed myself to lose touch.
"Did you lead a person, or did you manage an asset?" Pat asked calmly, already knowing the answer.
"I managed." I felt immediately ill.
Later, at lunch with a dear and trusted friend, I recounted the story. In the end we agreed - I'd been anesthetized into passivity. I was an unlikely victim but the proof was there for all to see. Parting, she mentioned her intent to pick two work associates with whom she'd lost touch and send them an e-mail.
As did I.