“Time doesn’t heal all wounds. Rather, it provides us the space to adjust to the new reality.” My father shared this insight about nine months after we lost my stepmother (and his wife of 30 years) to colon cancer. Two years later, I reached back to those words as I buried my mother, exhausted, numb, and broken from her harrowing 15-month decline.
Today marks the two-year anniversary of her death. While I’ve moved through the mourning process, and into a place in which my memories evoke more smiles than tears, there are still occasional moments when my longing to talk with her, share a photo with her, or hear her reassurances literally takes my breath away. For a moment, I’m paralyzed. But, it passes quickly now, and I can move on without much disruption.
Now that I’m on the other side of grief, I can look back and see exactly how my grief changed me.
Before we get to the list of changes, remember that grief is deeply personal. There is no right way to grieve, there is no timeline. You will have support, but you will travel this journey alone.
Grief triggers significant neurological, physiological, and emotional changes. Grief profoundly impacts memory, and can take years until full cognitive ability is restored.
Three finance professors from major business schools tracked the performance of 75,000 Danish companies in the two years before and after the CEO had experienced a family death. Financial performance declined 20% after the loss of a child, 15% after the death of a spouse, and almost 10% after the demise of any other family member.
Physiologically, grief aggravates physical pain, increases blood pressure and blood clots, and increases the risk of heart attacks by 21 times.
These systemic changes alone will impact your ability to lead. Here is how to move through it, and what awaits you on the other side.
How to Move Through It
Know That You Are Not Alone
Have faith that you will move through it, and adjust to the new reality. Your business will be there when you re-emerge whole. Time creates the space to adjust to the new reality.
Ask for Help
You have friends, mentors, advisors, employees, customers, and partners in your business life. You didn’t build your business alone, and you don’t need to carry it alone. Reach out.
People want to feel useful in times of struggle. Your business tribes want to support you. Embrace the help.
There is one way to move through grief—keep moving. Suppressing grief doesn’t make it go away. Lean into your grief. Take the time away from the business that you need to heal. Showing up broken is bad for everyone.
How Grief Impacts You as a Leader
You Have a Healthier Respect for Mortality, and Greater Appreciation for Time
You have a greater sense of urgency. You will have less patience for people and events that are insignificant, not related to your goals, or don’t support your best interests. You learn to rebound more quickly after difficult outcomes. You spend less time licking your wounds.
You Are More Compassionate
When others suffer or lose loved ones, you will empathize. If a client or employee suffers a loss, you will relate to them in a more personal way. In some ways, your own grief will be a gateway to a more meaningful connection.
You Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
So many disagreements grow out of meaningless exchanges, then snowball into grudges, and distract us from what really matters. They aren’t worth it. You may learn that your need to be heard is often overrated and not worth the sacrifice of a relationship. You understand that most burned bridges are not smart business.
You Take Time to Pause
While grief forces you to appreciate that we are all here for a short time, it also compels us to pause and appreciate where we are now, at this moment in time, because this time will never come again. In leadership, self-reflection is essential to understanding where we have been, where we are now, and where we are going.
You Learn to Be OK With Everything Not Being OK
You learn that life is going to kick you to the curb once in a while. You learn that you have everything you need inside of you to move though the challenges, and that sitting in difficulty is part of the process of healing and growth. As a leader, we must embrace discomfort to move forward. Pain is part of growth.
You Learn to Dream Bigger and Take More Risk
Time is moving quickly. You will never have another opportunity to move forward with your dreams. There will never be another today. If things don’t work out the way you envisioned, you’ll be OK. The alternative is to play it safe and never take the risk.
When we bounce back from losing something we love, we learn we have an inner strength to endure. We become a bit tougher. Our employees look to us for this inner strength, and for the fire we have inside to dream more, do more, and achieve more.
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