Yesterday was my birthday and also marked 172 days since my Dad died.
Most of those 172 days I’ve been at work, coaching, facilitating and helping leaders to be the best version of themselves to serve their teams well. I absolutely love my work; it brings me immense joy – and at the exact same time – my heart is aching with longing for my Dad.
What I hear from my clients, and what I definitely have experienced myself this year, is that talking about grief at work is excruciatingly tough – not wanting to ‘say the wrong thing’ ‘mess it up’ or ‘upset you even more by talking about it’. Also, for those who have not experienced ‘front row grief’ (i.e. sitting on the front row of a funeral), ‘how can I possibly understand what they’re going through’ is the blocker to talking about it.
I get it, it is a tough subject.
I’ll tell you though, it’s tougher to be experiencing grief alone.
One of the reasons I believe that Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead™️ book has now sold over 1 million copies is that it helps leaders learn how to lean into tough conversations like grief at work.
In the two day Dare to Lead™️ workshop, we dig into Brené’s brilliant and simple test to see if you’re ‘qualified’ to talk about grief at work. It goes like this:
1. Do you know what it feels like to be heartbroken? Lost? Sad? Lonely?
If the answer is yes, congratulations, you’re ‘empathy certified’ to talk about grief at work.
Brené eloquently describes how empathy is NOT connecting to the actual experience - it is connecting to the emotions of the experience. You may not know what it’s like to have lost someone, but you do know what it’s like to feel heartbreak, loss, sadness or loneliness – and connecting to those emotions is what’s needed for leaders to lean into tough conversations.
When leaders have an imperfect conversation about grief, they build deeper connection, more psychological safety and build trust (all of which are crucial for performance by the way).
Know this: whether you talk about it or not, it’s still there.
Leaders don’t have to have perfectly crafted conversations about grief at work (that’s not possible anyway given how personal and highly individualised grief is).
They just need to acknowledge and sit with the emotions that their teams are carrying and let them know they SEE them.
My Dad worked in a car factory for his whole career and apparently knew nothing about leadership. Yet he always asked me in his Bolton accent: ‘how are you really doing, Bab?’– turns out he would have been a good leader – as well as my very own super-hero.