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Why You Should Focus on Improving Trauma-Informed Leadership

Updated: Nov 14, 2023

Recently, I've noticed a plethora of articles written about vulnerability in leadership, empathetic leadership, coaching leadership and on and on. Don't get me wrong, I think there is value in each and everyone of them. In a later blog, I'm going to dive into the rabbit hole about why before we implement a new leadership strategy, what we first need to do is ensure we have the safety to carry it out. But alas, that's for another time. For now, I want to talk about what you should focus on improving your trauma-informed leadership skills and style, and why having a trauma-informed framework in your organization can be beneficial.

Trauma-Informed Leadership

How to Build a Better Team with Trauma-Informed Leadership

When leaders search for solutions to improve their teams, they often discover resources are helpful for a brief time but soon fall short. Then, the search is on again.

What if I told you that the answer is out there—and it’s ready to be discovered?

Although gaining knowledge on leadership styles and implementing training programs are certainly positive tactics to improve your team’s performance, there is one approach to leadership that will give you proven success time after time.

That approach is trauma-informed leadership.

What is trauma-informed leadership?

When you lead from a place of kindness and understanding, you enable yourself to be a better leader who approaches conflict with empathy and compassion. This is trauma-informed leadership.

Trauma-informed leadership acknowledges peoples’ trauma and respects their trauma responses as viable forms of self-preservation. This approach allows leaders to see the big picture; to identify individuals’ emotional wounds, triggers, and strengths; and ultimately, to act in accordance with each individual’s needs.

When you honor employees’ trauma, you show them empathy. In turn, they experience feelings of safety, security, respect, and recognition—which are all great motivators to improve staff morale.

With the knowledge and tools of trauma-informed leadership, leaders:

· foster fulfilling relationships with employees

· boost employee morale

· promote long-term resilience

· implement trauma-informed systems and training

· provide conflict resolution strategies to staff members

· improve overall company performance with lasting results

· create a workplace environment where employees are at their best

What does a trauma-informed approach look like in a professional setting?

You might be thinking that trauma-informed leadership sounds like a dream come true—the answer to all (or most of) the employee issues you face at work.

Although this might be true—let’s not jump to conclusions. Trauma-informed leadership is not an easy solution.

When you see what trauma-informed leadership looks like in practice, you’ll realize that it requires significant emotional labor for leadership teams.

However, if you’re up for the challenge, you’re guaranteed to see the lasting impacts of your work.

Acknowledge the impact of trauma

To be a trauma-informed leader, you must first recognize the impact of trauma—that goes for your own life as much it does the lives of your employees and colleagues.

The journey of trauma-informed leadership is an inside-out job: you must turn inward before you can assist others.

So, the first step is to analyze how trauma has impacted you and address your personal issues.

If you’re thinking, “that’s a lot for step one,” you’re right. That’s why I guide companies and individuals through this step with plenty of tools and resources specifically designed to assist in acknowledgment.

Identify individual trauma responses

Once you can step back and acknowledge how trauma has impacted you and your coworkers, it’s time to identify how that plays out in your behaviors and trauma responses.

This is different for everyone.

One colleague might shut down. Another might have an overwhelming emotional response. In the workplace, these behaviors are often looked down upon—and so, we don’t talk about them.

But in spaces where trauma-informed leadership is prioritized, talking about how we feel is encouraged and normalized.

When an employee faces challenges in their personal life with a death in the family, illness, or just a hard day, having support at work can completely alter their attitude towards their workplace.

Respond appropriately.

Whether or not your employees talk openly about their emotions, those hard feelings come to work with them.

When trauma responses arise, many employers turn to punishment. They think that reprimanding employees is a viable tactic to improve performance.

With a trauma-informed approach, you are enabled to respond in a more appropriate manner. Instead of punishing an employee who is already facing challenges, you can respond to their actions with support, empathy, and compassion.

Acknowledging the difficulties in your employees’ personal lives is not unprofessional. Showing up for them is what makes you a good leader.

Resist re-traumatization

This process of acknowledging trauma, identifying patterns of behavior, and responding appropriately is cyclical. And over time, as you get to know your team better, you’ll be able to actively prevent re-traumatization.

Re-traumatization happens when extremely triggering events push people to relive their trauma and default to old coping mechanisms. These events hold your employees back, and as their leader, your efforts to avoid re-traumatization will improve your workplace environment immeasurably.

The Bottom Line: You Can Be a Trauma-Informed Leader

Trauma-informed leadership is a long, winding road where you, as a self-aware and present leader, are constantly working to better yourself, your workplace, and your employees through a trauma-informed lens.

Is it hard? Yes.

Can you do it? Yes!

Anyone can be a trauma-informed leader, as long they’re dedicated to putting the work in.

At Chefalo Consulting, we are devoted to helping leaders like you discover how to manage teams with trauma-informed leadership skills.

Learn more about how your team can benefit from trauma-informed coaching, training or implementation with a free consultation that will give you custom solutions tailored to your specific situation.


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