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CEO Call to Action : May 2023

We are all leading and living in a post-pandemic culture. For many of us, the trauma that once filled a distant and somewhat standoffish role in our everyday lives has become a front-and-center power player in many interactions. According to David Tweedy, a Clinical Psychologist and Healthcare Executive, “Trauma-informed Leadership is a way of understating or appreciating there is an emotional world of experiences rumbling around beneath the surface.” The past few years have brought leaders face-to-face with the need to examine their approach to trauma at the individual and organizational levels, and developing new tools and mindsets to address the shift has become paramount.

Trauma-informed leadership recognizes and respects the emotional scars, stories, and shifts that people may struggle with and responds with an authentic level of empathy and compassion. As many leaders navigate the uncharted waters of empowering the future of work, many employees in our buildings today have experienced:

  • levels of high stress

  • injuries and hospitalizations

  • loss of loved one(s)

  • shifts in personal relationships

  • consistent changes in work expectations

  • unrest, violence, & witnessed events

  • increase in anxiety and/or depression

So how do we, as leaders, position ourselves to respond to the rapidly changing dynamics of a trauma-filled work environment and still work to move our teams and organizations forward? Here are three strategies leaders in today’s workforce can employ to lead through tough times:

1. Treat people as human beings, not human doings

As a trauma-informed leader, work to ensure that most of your interactions with team members, employees, and colleagues are centered around understanding versus performing. This practice allows colleagues to focus more on commonalities in our humanity versus simply the work titles and roles that can work to further separate us.

2. Commit to creating a psychologically safe workplace culture

Trauma-informed leaders develop clear communication around culture in order to ensure that there is clarity for recently onboarded and veteran employees as well as for external stakeholders that impact culture. What are the conditions necessary for team members to bring up new ideas, introduce their needs, or operate in conflict without the fear of retaliation? How might those interactions play out with those in entry-level versus mid-level management roles, and what is the best way to have those conversations with upper-level or executive leadership?

3. Focus on responding versus reacting

Two of the most effective ways for trauma-informed leaders to operate from a posture of responding is to first take time to pause when receiving and reflecting on information and, secondly, to seek clarification through questioning. By pausing, leaders give themselves time to process and clarify information rather than allowing emotions to dictate the response.

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