In this series, I am making a bold claim that I believe is key to transformationally elevating our leadership effectiveness. The claim is:

Leadership ineffectiveness is rooted in leaders’ trauma

If this is true, it has a very powerful implication:

In order to help leaders significantly transform, we need to help them heal from their past trauma

This is the fourth article in a series on the connection between trauma and leadership (in)effectiveness and how we can help ourselves and other leaders heal to unlock the full potential in our leadership effectiveness.

If you haven’t read the first two articles, you can read them here:

I invite you to join me over the next set of articles to explore this claim, its implications, and ultimately learn how we can help ourselves and other leaders heal to unlock the full potential in our leadership effectiveness.

Quick Catch Up

Trauma occurs when we experience situations that overwhelm our body’s stress response system.

When this occurs, our body takes drastic measures to protect ourselves from the pain of the experience in the moment as well as into the future. These drastic measures are the primary consequences of trauma, and they have the associated secondary consequences:

Consequences of Trauma - 1

When we connect the diminished ability to be self-aware and other-aware, this results in lower emotional intelligence.

The Limiting Impact of Trauma on One’s Agility

I want to add greater breadth to the secondary consequences of trauma. Trauma doesn’t just hinder our ability to be emotionally intelligent, it also hinders our ability to be agile and future-ready.

Being agile is one’s ability to swiftly and positively change and adapt to one’s changing and dynamic environment.

As the change, pressure, uncertainty, and complexity of our world accelerates, possessing this attribute of agility is becoming increasingly essential.

In order to see the connection between trauma and resistance to agility, it is going to be helpful explore:

  • The characteristics of agility
  • The opposite of agility and its characteristics

The Characteristics of Agility

The characteristics of someone who is agile include:

  • Innovative
  • Change-willing
  • Open-minded
  • Opportunistic
  • Purpose-seeking
  • Problem-solving

The Opposite of Agility and Its Characteristics

To identify the opposite of agility, let’s first start by exploring the opposite of the characteristics above. I think the following are good fits:

  • Traditional
  • Change-resistant
  • Close-minded
  • Risk-adverse
  • Comfort-seeking
  • Problem-avoiding

If you were to put a label that summarizes these characteristics, what would that be?

To me, one word that fits is: Protective.

The Connection between Trauma and Protectiveness

The job of our stress response system is to protect us. When we experience trauma (stressful situations that exceed our body’s stress response system), our body, via disassociation and disintegration, becomes over-sensitive to potential dangers as a way to protect us. Also, our over-sensitive stress response system induces our body to nonconsciously become more inclined to seek after certainty and comfort.

protective

This oversensitivity to potential dangers is what causes protective people from being agile. They are holding onto things that feel certain and/or comfortable, which shows up as characteristics of being traditional, change-resistant, close-minded, risk-adverse, comfort-seeking, and problem-avoiding.

To someone who has experienced trauma, such sensitivity to dangers and subsequent protectiveness feels right. It feels justified. In the moment, such people have a hard time recognizing that they are seeing relatively safe things, like embracing change or challenges, as being dangerous. This is misencoding and possessing a narrow window of tolerance at its finest.

Summary

Those who have been through trauma, and have not healed from that trauma, commonly have a short-term focus that inhibits them from having the agility necessary to stay relevant in the long term.

But, if we can heal from the effects of our trauma, become less sensitive to potential dangers, and do a better job of not encoding safe things as being dangerous, we can create the space and develop the centeredness to be more open to embracing change. (We are getting closer to discussing how to heal from the neurological impact of our trauma).

This allows us to add more content to the table presented above:

Consequences of Trauma - 2