Leading Through Loss | The Upside of Loss

As COVID-19 continues to shake the world, a reality is setting in – loss is all around us. It’s not simply the loss of life, it’s the loss of things we call “normal.” For example, remember the days when you got a craving for ice cream and you simply ran out to your local store to pick up a pint? How about celebrating a friends birthday at their favorite local restaurant? What about gathering with family for a sacred holiday meal? Those days for now are on pause.

Yesterday I opened Facebook to find out that Frank Pinchas Grabin, someone I knew for years died in New York. He was an ER doctor who was an exceptional human who chose every day to give on the front lines. Another friend shared the loss of a brother of a close and cherished mentor of his. As other parts of the globe have begun to experience loss dramatically, in the United States, we are at the beginning of this unfolding. I imagine that these sharings are going to continue.

As many experts are talking about the change we are going through, I would ask you to embrace, that while we are going through a seismic change, we are also going through profound loss. As leaders today, who prepares you for leading and managing loss?

The pandemic is calling you as leaders to exist and lead counter to our culture. What you are coming up against in leading others, and perhaps even for yourself, is that our culture tends to lean into bypassing loss and moving into immediate and swift action. Who amongst us knows how to lead through loss when our organizations, culture and everything around us up until now told us to be in action? Now we are being asked to come to a full STOP at some level. For the doers among us (including yours truly) this is painful at best and completely goes against how we are conditioned to be and act.

Admittedly when I saw that Frank passed away, I cried, that uncontrollable weeping you do when someone so near and dear to you passes. However, he and I hadn’t talked in a couple of years and I was surprised at my overwhelming response. It stopped me in my tracks. I mean frozen, unable to work or think. Grief grabbed me and wouldn’t let go, I was so stopped it was scary. I tried doing work and I couldn’t. I kept crying and crying and, in my tears,  I realized I’m crying for the loss that has been and the loss that has yet to come. As someone who likes to control things, this is far outside of my sphere of influence. There was no comforting me at all. I realized I simply needed the space and time to absolutely let the sadness of loss run its course.

This pandemic is literally requiring us to stop what we are doing and stay inside for an undetermined amount of time – what an incredible metaphor for what leaders must shift to do.

While you can ask people to move from grief to resilience it’s simply physically impossible. Most leaders I know today are trying so hard to motivate their teams, to be there for them, to give them space and time for their kids and families – all perfect and necessary. Leaders are struggling to give people the tools and techniques to create momentum in an environment that seemingly has momentum on steroids or has grinded to a complete standstill.

It’s not that we are being asked not to be in action, we are being called to reframe, refocus and realign on what it means to be in action. This is especially true for our leaders.

When I say “stop” let’s redefine this. Are you really being asked or asking of others to be immobile or not to be in action? It turns out that we have this internal world that is fully alive where we participate with our inner-world behaviors and actions. Our internal world actions shape our external world. It’s not that we are being asked not to be in action, we are being called to reframe, refocus and realign on what it means to be in action. This is especially true for our leaders. We are being asked to pay closer attention to the actions we are already taking internally.

So how do you lead in an environment of loss? I was inspired by Brené Brown’s latest podcast, “David Kessler and Brené on Grief and Finding Meaning” to share these strategies:

1)Take care of YOU first – Author and grief expert David Kessler says, “Two people with an empty tank can’t fill each other up.” That’s why it’s so important for leaders to first take care of YOU. So many people I speak with now are bypassing your own mental health and moving into team action. That bypassing will lead to a potential breakdown.

2)“If you don’t feel it you can’t heal it” – Another quote from Kessler. I know many leaders are doing whatever they can to really inquire with their teams how they are feeling. Lean into this, don’t simply give this 15 minutes on an agenda and move on. Renowned author Susan David who did the TED talk, The Gift and Power of Emotional Courage,” shares how we deal with our emotions shapes everything we do. As leaders, your ability to manage emotions, including your own, is needed now more than ever. Train and develop yourself in emotional courage.

3)The danger of moving from loss to gratitude too quickly – There has been a lot of talk these days of gratitude. I love gratitude, who doesn’t love gratitude? To even be grateful to be grateful is a gift. However, as I said earlier you cannot jump from loss to resilience so quickly. Sorry, I can’t find gratitude in a pandemic. As Kessler says, “Your loss is not a test, a lesson, something to handle, a gift or a blessing. Loss is simply what happens to you in your life, meaning is what you make happen.” I can create what Kessler calls “meaningful moments” in it. For example, taking that extra five minutes to dig deeper into why someone feels the way they do – to really inquire from a space of curiosity; instead of moving so quickly into work mode first thing in the day, taking time to journal your feelings without judgment.

4)Filling the void – It’s easy to continue working, it’s what we have been conditioned to do, plus we are getting paid to do so. The opportunity for you as leaders is how do you allow space in your own life and in your work and not fill it with to dos? Many clients I have are meditating now more than ever. What meditation does is that it actively creates the space for us to feel, to experience and to be in the knowing of what is our truth in our loss.

When addicts are in the beginning of recovery, they are asked to take life in small incremental stages in the beginning – minute by minute then hour by hour then day by day then week by week. You may find that you too are managing those stages. Let this blog post be a call of awakening for us all to experience what we are really experiencing, to live in our truth and to call on those we work with to do the same.