Parenting & Leadership: Leading Through Trauma

      We coach many executives in high stress roles, struggling to cope with a combination of work from home employees and those that are slowly coming back into the office. 

      They are worried about their teams’ performance and they are worried for their team’s safety.

      Not only are they juggling to perform their role, they are trying to manage variety of emotions being experienced by themselves and their team members, and layered on top of that they are also parents.

      They are stressed about the decision to send their children to school, or not. And if they choose to send them, how safe are they going to be? What if they get a cold? How long will they actually be attending school before the next shut down?  What will they do if a child gets sent home?  

      One leader shared that she was just heading into a 3pm executive meeting when the school called to say her 7-year-old was complaining of a tummy ache. The conversation went something like this… 

      Leader, “She gets on the bus in 10 minutes, just send her home, she’s fine.” 

      School admin person, “We can’t put her on the bus if she is complaining of a tummy ache.” 

      Leader, “Why not?” 

      School admin person, “We can’t put her on the bus if she is indicating she is sick in any way.” 

      Leader, “But she’s wearing a mask and sitting alone in her seat. Isn’t that what masks are for? Just put her on the bus.” 

      School admin person, “We can’t put her on the bus if she is complaining of a tummy ache. You’ll have to come pick her up.” 

      Leader, “But I’m an hour’s drive away and school ends in 10 minutes.” 

      School admin person, “I’m sorry ma’am but you’ll have to get someone here to pick her up by 3:30.” 

      A flurry of phone calls ensued until this leader found a grandparent who could get to the school by the appointed time to pick up her daughter.  

       “I have to admit,” this leader shared with me, “My first instinct was to be extremely mad at my daughter that she couldn’t just keep her tummy ache to herself for 10 more minutes until she was safely seated on the bus! 

      Next, I wanted to yell at the poor school admin person, just put my daughter on the @#$%&! bus! You’re making me late for an executive meeting and I’m going to rush in feeling very flustered and how is that going to look to the rest of the executive team?.” 

      She paused for a moment and then went on, “Then of course I instantly felt very guilty for having both those thoughts. Pre-Covid I would have never lost my cool like that. I felt like in that moment I couldn’t take one more thing to have to juggle that day.” 

      Being an executive leader and a parent has always had a variety of challenges and pressures. However, the pressure felt by parents appears to have ramped up drastically since March 2020.

      For some the last few months have included sickness or fear of getting sickjob loss or fear of job loss, loss of financial security, feelings of not measuring up to expectations and incredible instability in both their family and work lives. These things along with the uncertainly of how long this will last has pushed some past feeling stressed. 

      A recent survey of over 6,100 employees "from companies including Google, Salesforce, Lyft, and Facebook about being a working parent amid the coronavirus crisis. The survey found the 61% of parents were working three or more extra hours per day to complete normal tasks, and that more than 50% of working parents were worried about their performance compared to employees without children. "

      We are talking to more and more leaders who are worried that they are not doing a good job of supporting their team, performing their job, and parenting all at the same time! 

      “Usually I feel pretty good about at least one area of my life!” one executive joked last week.  

      “Right now, I’d be hard pressed to pick something I think I am doing really well. I’m just trying to cope.” 

      Most people are aware of the term Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PSTD).  It is a mental health condition that is triggered by either witnessing or experiencing a terrifying event. Most people who go through traumatic events may have difficulty coping temporarily but with time and attention to healing they generally get better.

      For some the past few months have had them experiencing symptoms similar to those experience by people diagnosed with PTSD including nightmares, depression, irritability, avoidance of people or places, getting startled easily, getting angry easily and being hyper vigilant about everything. 

      Trauma impacts people in different ways. It is easy to judge someone’s response to trauma that is different from ours and yet there is no ‘right way’ to experience and move through trauma.   

      “Why are they responding like that?”  

      “Can’t they just move forward?”  

      “It’s out of our control so why get so bent out of shape about it?” 

      “Can’t they see I’m juggling a hundred things at once and cut me some slack?” 

      How many of these kind of phrases have you heard, or perhaps uttered, over the past few months? 

       How can we help lead ourselves, our teams and our families through the current challenges to which we have no end date in sight? 


      Moving Through Trauma to Growth 

      I came across an interesting concept called Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG). PTG is defined as“the transformative positive change that can occur as a result of a struggle with great adversity.”

      PTG is not the opposite of PTSD; it’s the experience of growth that follows from struggle in the aftermath of trauma. It’s about making meaning out of a stressful or traumatic situation. Noticing opportunities that show up because of the current stressful situation. 

      Research shows that people who make meaning out of trauma report: 

      • An increased sense of their own strength and capacities to prevail. 
      • Improved relationships with others, including a greater sense of belonging. 
      • A greater sense of compassion. 
      • And an increased sense of purpose and appreciation for life. 

      An example of post-traumatic growth at work might be losing the competition for a promotion, and by virtue of losing you are available to pursue a new role that better aligns with your strengths and career goals

      Putting PTG into practice    

      So perhaps rather than hoping for and talking about things returning to normal, we can ask bigger questions about how we might grow in this moment, as leaders, as team members, as parents. Here are a few suggestions outlined in this great article: 

      • Connect with your values – have your team create a list of their most important values, their guiding principles. Then have them expand on their list by writing why those values matter to them. Do a round table and share with each other.  
      • Connect with your organization’s values – look for opportunities to walk the talk. Go beyond stating the values and look for ways to reinforce them through your own and your team’s behaviors. State it out loud when you see it being done. 

      • Connect with your family values  do the team exercise with your family. This can help children feel a sense of comradery and being ‘in it together’ which can increase their sense of security and see strength in the family unit.  

      • Connect with others – social connection is both important and hard to do right now. Build time into meetings for check-ins that are real and transparent.  Create peer to peer support networks for parents so they can discuss struggles, vent, be heard and perhaps share tips and tricks. Encourage your children to connect with aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins that they perhaps haven’t been able to see in person. This helps them see that there is a bigger circle of supportive people they can lean on when times get tough. 

      Being an executive and a parent is stressful. Spending time sharing values and doing affirmation exercises as a team and as a family can be very powerful.

      It can create a safe haven to talk about challenges and help foster resilience and growth in the face of those challenges. 

      What are you doing to not just cope but move to growth? 

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