Leading through trauma

Leading through trauma is crucial these days

Leading through trauma, global trauma, is our biggest business challenge. Who knew, right?

Many of the current crisis scenarios worldwide are the result of deficient leadership, and the trauma it caused. A leadership based on fear, intimidation, senseless growth and greed. That’s what most people actually value as effective business and political leaders if you think about it. The greatest conquerors of history are seen as the greatest “leaders” in most textbooks worldwide. They lived in a time where the most value was placed on making your empire as big as possible.

This same concept was thus promoted in business. Mergers and acquisitions to “kill” the competition. If you were great in one area, suddenly you wanted to take over your supply and distribution chains. Do more, faster, cheaper. But we forgot to do better. We forgot the rage and disparity that come out of stepping over others for centuries. We tucked under the rug the mistakes that were made along the way for the sake of “progress”. And we piled up trauma.

Trauma for the conquerors who shed lives and blood without consequence. Trauma for the conquered, who were depleted, ashamed, and enslaved.

A collection of pain that today is forcing leaders to reassess their role, and learn what it means to lead through trauma.

Photo by Kristaps Grundsteins on Unsplash

Leading through trauma takes:

    • Courage
    • Vulnerability
    • Empathy
    • Creativity
    • Discernment.


Leading through trauma takes courage.

You need to face your own demons before you are able to lead. Understanding where you come from and the pain that you carry allows you to respond differently. It will allow you to become more objective and to separate your personal story from the story you’re witnessing. But facing your own trauma requires you to ask yourself tough questions. Sometimes it will require to bring back memories that you have decided to suppress for the sake of your sanity and survival. That is not an easy process. It not only requires courage, it requires a support system.

Leading through trauma requires vulnerability.

Once you have faced your demons, you need to feel the emotions that don’t feel good. In a society of “happy and strong” you need to allow yourself days of sadness. You have to make friends with your anger and frustration. Sometimes you will need to acknowledge that you need time off. It may require saying “no” to those big negotiations. Maybe it will require taking time off just before that big promotion or merger. If you’re not feeling all your feelings, they will come out in the most unexpected moments and unexpected ways.

Empathy is key to allow you to lead.

Empathy is a crucial part of leadership. Just like many great leaders come from the bottom of the organization, learning what it takes to succeed in every area. Empathy allows you to understand that those around you may be confused, in pain, or triggered, even if you don’t understand why. It allows you to step back or push when your team needs it. You may use here a combination of vulnerability and courage to connect with your team, your clients, and everyone around you. Knowing that you are human, and those around you are too, can become a total game changer in policies, structure, and productivity. Not to mention, finally understanding that no organization can succeed stepping over others. It may grow, it may thrive, but it will continue the destructive cycle that has piled up trauma all the way.

Leading through trauma and creativity.

In all honesty… A collective wave of trauma makes most of the usual tools obsolete. The things that used to work have become void or nonsensical. You can’t just get people pumped to sell after 3 months in social isolation and dealing with their demons by taking them to a convention. Nevertheless, you need to try. Use new tools, learn more about the people you work with. Perhaps check their background, their resumé, their track record with the organization. See beyond their position and rank. Talk to them one on one, or develop the right spaces to make them visible to you and to others. Share your stories, share your passions and hobbies. Allow people to connect with their inner-child and have fun again. Nothing changes the dynamics better than playing and allowing for honest growth.


The toughest part of leading may be discernment.

Ask yourself:


        • is the best for us at this moment in time?
        • is needed of this organization?
        • do we need to keep the organization active and running while also keeping our community safe and healthy?

These three questions are probably going through every leader’s mind these days. And if you haven’t gotten there, let’s be honest… You’re probably not doing your job. You know your job includes much more than running an organization or your area these days. Our job as leaders requires us to know what is going on in the world. What is happening around us that can hurt and affect the productivity and performance of my team? Can I do something about it or should I look around for help?

Again, this is why discernment is essential for leading through trauma. Am I the right person to lead this process? Do I need to look elsewhere for help? Do I know the right person for the job? It’s not a crime to ask for help. However, it is critical if a leader does not take the time to ponder whether she or he is the right person to lead the process.

Why not thinking about moving past trauma?

Wouldn’t it be great to think ahead? It’s tempting, I’m not going to lie. We may get tired of the tough questions and conversations. Our energy may seem drained from diving into a sea of emotions. Be kind to yourself and others around you, but do not for a second go back to shortcuts. We do not need to stay in fight or flight mode. What we do need, is to keep our eyes and ears open. Listen, and do so deeply. Listen to what people say and to what they don’t. Look at what is happening, and look into the history of where it comes from.

We will get to a point beyond trauma as a collective. But individual human trauma will remain. And, to some extent, it is what shapes us and allows us to learn. That is, if we let it become a lesson, and not an excuse.

It’s your choice now, will trauma be the lesson you needed to grow, or the excuse that holds us back?

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