Thus far in this series, I have communicated what trauma is (Part 1), how trauma affects our mind (Part 2), and how trauma inhibits leaders’ abilities to be emotionally intelligent (Part 3) and agile (Part 4).
Knowing all of this, if we want to elevate our ability to be effective leaders, we need to heal our minds.
Part 5 was a high-level overview on how we can do this, identifying two general approaches: top-down and bottom-up approaches. Part 6 was on a top-down approach that I use with the leaders I work with. And, Part 7 was on bottom-up approaches that are helpful for people whose trauma makes it so they have a hard time connecting with their bodies.
In this article, I want to share the three primary lessons I have learned as I have explored the connection between trauma and leadership (in)effectiveness.
Lesson #1: All bad leadership is trauma related
Research shows that almost 30% of bosses are toxic.
Do these “toxic” leaders see themselves as being toxic? NO! They see themselves as “Jack” in Jack and the Beanstalk, the hero. But, they are really the Giant. They can’t see it, but everyone else can.
Why are some leaders toxic to begin with? It is because they have had traumatic experiences in their past that has led them to have a nervous system that causes them to:
- See safe things as being dangerous (e.g., disagreement, failure, problems, others)
- Have a narrow window of tolerance.
Their prior trauma prevents them from being in control of themselves, from being present, from being mindful, and from being centered.
Any poor leadership can be connected back to the two points above:
- Seeing safe things as being dangerous (e.g., disagreement, failure, problems, others)
- Having a narrow window of tolerance.
The same could be said for parents and employees as well.
And, the root of these two issues is trauma.
Lesson #2: If we truly want our leaders to improve, we have to focus on helping them heal
Honestly, when it comes to leadership development, few, if any, leadership developers or organizations are talking about helping their leaders heal from their past trauma.
This is because of three primary reason:
- They are not aware of the connection between trauma and leadership ineffectiveness
- They are apprehensive about how focusing on healing might be received
- They are not sure how to help leaders heal
Generally, leadership development programs focus on helping leaders learn what they need to DO to be effective. They are armed with research-backed to-do lists and sent out to execute.
While such efforts can be incrementally helpful, they don’t help leaders:
- Start to see safe things as being safe
- Broaden their window of tolerance
Thus, when push comes to shove, stress and pressure rise, and uncertainty and complexity abound, our leaders will lose control, lose contact with the present, become mindless, and get thrown off-centered. And, when these things occur, they will make less-than-optimal decisions that will have long-term negative implications for their organizations and employees.
If we truly want our leaders to improve, we have to focus on helping them heal their mind. The more their minds are healed, the more they will be able to be in control, present, mindful, and centered despite the chaos of their environment and the challenges they face.
Lesson #3: Healing leaders will heal the world
Leaders are high-leverage individuals. Depending upon their position, their decisions affect hundreds, thousands, millions, or billions.
You can’t tell me that the decisions of Joe Biden, Mark Zuckerberg, or Elon Musk do not have the ability to influence billions of people. They can.
What happens if our leaders are making decisions from a place where they:
- Are seeing safe things as dangerous
- Have a narrow window of tolerance?
You have probably heard the saying, “hurt people hurt people.” That is true (Part 3 explains why).
But, I also believe it is equally valid to say, “healed people heal people.”
And, since leaders are in such high-leverage positions, if they come from a healed place, they will make decisions and create conditions that are more conducive to the healing of others.
Thank you for joining me in this journey of exploring the connection between trauma and leadership (in)effectiveness. I hope it has helped you become more trauma-informed, more compassionate/empathetic, and more focused on healing (either for yourself or for the leaders that you work with). (I feel that is what I have gotten out of this journey.)
As I mentioned, I believe that if we can help leaders (1) become more trauma-informed and (2) heal, we can heal our world.
If you want to explore any of these concepts further, please comment below or reach out to me personally.