Management when Life Hits you Hard…

Work and personal life mingles…. and even more so in times of sorrow! As a manager you will at some stage for sure be confronted with the fact that a person brings their personal life at work – in good days and in bad times. When you become a manager, you promise to be true to your colleagues in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health…and that you will follow them during every day and in all circumstances.

Dealing with sorrow in the organisation

Life is tough and one of the most difficult parts of being a manager is. …when your employee is in a difficult situation!!

Your colleagues might die, might lose their children, lose their parents or their siblings, their best friends, becoming sick or facing sickness in their family, divorcing or splitting up their family or even losing their jobs – there could be a lot of reasons for people being in sorrow, going through a trauma or personal change.

As a manager, you have accepted to deal with living people. This means that you also have to deal with people when life hits at its worst…and you have to deal with people in sorrow!

In these circumstances, all human beings naturally sometimes want to hide. Meeting others persons sorrow is mirroring our own feelings, our own sorrow, our own emptiness and our personal ways to deal with sorrow and trauma.

”Grief is itself a medicine” – William Cowper

Difficult times, sorrow and death is a part of life in the same way as joy, good circumstances and happy people. It is a fact that as human beings, we all do feel it is easier to relate to the positive part of our emotions.

Each individual reacts differently when facing tough times. Individuals have to be seen and respected with their needs. In some cases they might just need time to rest, to recover and take time for physical care of the body, other times, they might need to talk through the difficulties with another person. People need time to grief.

The bigger picture

In addition, as a manager you also have to accept that the organisation also needs time.

As managers, we have to be prepared, reflect on and train on how to meet with people in difficult circumstances. Most companies working in hazardous sectors luckily train to face these difficult settings. In the same way as you train as a manager to manage budgets, you have to train to meet people in difficult circumstances…. because some days are shiny and inspiring as others are grey or black.

“As in all events in life, all human beings needs time to go through the curve of change” – Kübler-Ross

For years, I personally worked in a risk business and participated to management trainings on how to meet difficult circumstances…. As a manager, I have met people in situations where I needed to use my knowledge…. the situations where life is put on hold, and as a manager, you can do nothing but remaining a support and a human being.

The interesting thing is that the crisis training has also been of good use in my personal life.: I lost a child …I had to inform my manager, my colleagues and my team….my training was extremely useful in this circumstance.
All human beings learn a lot from personal traumas and crisis. I learned a lot. One of the most important lessons was taught to me by my eldest son – at that stage five years old. He held his dead sister in his arms, clearly proud and was filled with happiness of being a big brother. He suddenly turned towards me and said ” Mum, you can take my sister, I want to go home and watch Nemo”. He gave me a lesson. I learned. It told me that you are allowed to be in deep grief at one moment and that in the next you are allowed to be happy and plan the future….you are allowed to shift your feelings throughout your day.

Being there

Children have this natural approach to sorrow. They dare to be sad – and some moments afterwards, they dare to be happy. This is what life is about – also in management. You have to dare to go in and out of sorrow. You have to be able to meet with people in grief with tears, silence, presence, laughter and humanity.

You have to send that little message with few words that shows that you care. You have to dare to sit besides and no words are needed. Your have to allow feelings, not only in the relationship with the person in sorrow but also with the rest of the organisation – they will all remember how you managed the situation.

Life is a good managerial school – being honest, present and personal makes you a good manager in times of sadness, sorrow and grief.

One of the most difficult things for people in sorrow is distance, ignorance and silence.

“We need never to be ashamed of our tears” Charles Dickens…and ”to weep is to make less the depth of grief” -William Shakespeare

As a manager, you have to learn to live with loss, you have to dear to speak about it and you have to be trained to be in silence and meet the rest of the team with your own personal sorrow.

There is no easy way out of it nor a quick cure for grief. As a manager, you just have to be a human being…and remember that the grief will last for longer than you believe!

With all my respect and condolences to the families, friends and colleagues touched by the North Sea helicopter accident outside Bergen April 29th, 2016