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Leadership Opportunities: How to Help Your Company Deal with National and Personal Trauma

by Bonni Carson DiMatteo

In the aftermath of the attack on America it is agreed nothing will ever be the same. Heightened security and uncertainty have settled into the country's psyche. A national grief and post traumatic stress has become at least a temporary resident in the collective unconscious of the country.

As people gradually pick up the pieces of their fractured lives and shattered assumptions, business leaders have an opportunity to a leadership role that was never taught in the MBA schools. Leaders will be called upon to set the culture, determine the strategy and implement it in the weeks to come.

Everyone is a survivor. What used to be six degrees of separation is now two or none. Here is what leaders can expect from returning survivors of this national crisis.

  • Shock
  • Malaise
  • Distractibility
  • Heightened anxiety
  • Somatic reactions
  • Flashbacks
  • Anger and rage
  • Sadness
  • Need to connect often with family, friends
  • Security concerns
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Productivity swings
  • Addictive behavior
  • Guilt
  • Helplessness and feeling lack of control

As a leader it will imperative to put people first and to give space for them to address there emotional needs. The more they are able to do that the quicker they will want to return to a productive work life. Work and productivity will be one of the few things that people may feel they can control. Productive works help create a sense of self worth and purpose. Leaders will need to inspire their staff in many ways and to set the tone for healing and hope.

Here are some ways how you can foster that:

  1. Begin each meeting that has met for the first time since the disaster with a moment of silence.
  2. Give opportunity for emotional expressions of grief, remorse, and guilt.
  3. Let the stories be told.
  4. Be present and visible. Let your feelings and reactions show.
  5. Be clear about security precautions the company is taking.
  6. Create opportunities for people to donate community service to feel that they can help.
  7. Allow time out for memorials, vigils when needed.
  8. Provide grief counseling or critical debriefing for those in need.
  9. Family first will be a survival skill as people rebuild their priorities and feel grateful for being spared.
  10. Find ways for them to memorialize lost co-workers and colleagues.
  11. Facilitate meetings to help people cope with the loss and illicit suggestions can feel in control.
  12. Implement suggestions.
  13. Create dialogues for combating terrorism that embrace the newfound patriotism and country's resolve to go forward.
  14. Find symbolic ways for people to express their grief and their hope – bulletin boards, memorials, newsletters.
  15. Plan on ways to rebuild teams.

United Airlines sent individual grief counselors to every family of the victims. GE, Cisco and other corporations stepped forth with contributions. The soul of America has been challenged and we have come forth so far as great heroes, great helpers and great survivors. People slow down, they wear flags, they sing anthems, they cry for people they have never known and for the loss of innocence and normalcy.

We are individually and collectively in a state of grief and post traumatic stress. We have been violated, abused and robbed. Our hearts have been broken. The picture of the imploding towers, the last conversations with loved ones, the heart wrenching stories have all occupied our every move and conversation since September 11. Spiritual leaders have joined hands to help the healing begin.

As we return to work it is time for the corporate leaders to come forth as well. Out of this rubble and grief is an opportunity for leaders to create a culture of caring while rebuilding the economic stability of the country. It is a vision that each company leader must embrace and implement and like any vision it must be done with values, mission and passion. Now is the time for the corporate leaders to take their position in the national history. Now is the time for leaders to use all of their leadership skills to inspire a more compassionate corporate culture that will harness its zeal to rebuild this country's businesses. Now is the time for leaders to give focus and direction to the healing of the economic landscape and to rebuild those towers everywhere.

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