Leading Through Trauma

Unlike the military, which is used to manage battlefield stress, civilians generally receive perfunctory support when they deal with trauma.

I recently read a 2002 Harvard Business Review (HBR) article titled Leading Through Trauma. In the paper, the authors argue that:  

“Although the human capacity to show compassion is universal, some organizations suppress it while others create an environment in which compassion is not only expressed but spread.”

They have a good point. 

Get the seven things you can do to lead that won’t cost a cent

Whether trauma happens at the individual level – unexpected medical diagnosis – or the collective level – a disaster strikes a community – the fallout is real and calls for leaders to express more than empathy. 

The article explains that leaders can meet this challenge by understanding the need for meaning and taking appropriate action.  

  • Meaning occurs when people try to make sense of the traumatic event and often find themselves soul-searching – asking difficult questions.  
  • Leaders can take action by making it ok for people to process the tough questions, providing knowledgeable resources to support the effort, establishing routines that offer stability, and creating networks of those who can learn from and help each other. 

As I considered the article, I felt we all long for this type of leadership as we face the complexity of today’s world and experience both heightened awareness of traumatic events and a lack of humanity.   

Get the seven comms tips so you don’t sound like an ass

Considering these thoughts, consider who around you might be dealing with a traumatic event and explore how you might meet their needs. 

By the way, this isn’t just a top-down leadership idea… 

A few years ago, a co-worker’s brother passed away. The funeral was held in a small community several hours outside of Calgary.

Family and friends filled the building.

I looked around at the many faces who had shown up to mourn the loss and celebrate this man’s life.

Except for my friend and co-worker, I didn’t know a soul,

I saw my co-worker; he greeted me like a long-lost friend, swept me by the arm, led me to the front of the hall and sat me down with the family. 

I knew my friend was going through a traumatic event and showed up to support me.

He likely would never have noticed, nor held it against me, if I chose not to attend the service. But he certainly appreciated that I was there.

Learn more about how you can be a Better Leader.

Please consider those in your life who may be going through a difficult time this week. Reach out to them. You don’t have to jump on a plane and travel halfway across the country. You can pick up the phone, email, or drop a card in the mail.  

I think that we all agree that we need more humanity in the world; take this opportunity to provide it.