This article first appeared on Forbes.com on May 9, 2022.
Childhood trauma can follow people into adulthood and, therefore, can show up in various aspects of their individual leadership styles—in the same way it can show up in personal relationships.
The implications of childhood trauma are complex, especially in the leadership spectrum. The characteristics that so-called “toxic leaders” portray within or at the helm of their companies nearly always result from their past psychological wounding. It would stand to reason then, that healing past trauma is imperative to becoming a more effective and conscious leader.
I believe that leaders must move from a “me” (ego) perspective to a “we” outlook for business success. That calls for creating cultures where people feel safe, seen, heard, understood, respected and a sense of belonging. This sense of inclusive belonging is necessary in order to change the narrative from fear-based, command-and-control, profit-focused leadership to a new focus on the triple-bottom line. That’s the approach that puts people, the planet and profits on the same plane of prioritization.
Leaders Must Heal To Lead
The cycle of maladaptive behaviors due to emotional wounding can be difficult to stop unless a person chooses to begin healing from it. Since people don’t operate in silos, untreated trauma can hinder one’s journey to cultivating relationships, building trust and considering others in all decision-making processes.
Leaders who have not begun the healing journey from past traumatic experiences tend to be myopic and inflexible. I’ve observed that they often lack:
- Active awareness of their reactions, behaviors and body language;
- The ability to be trusted by those within the organization they lead;
- The capacity to reliably produce results in the long-term; and
- The ability to adapt to rapid changes in the environment.
While these qualities are highly desirable and coveted among C-suite executives, trauma can impede them.
For leaders to be successful, they must be willing to take “rich material from their history and make it productive, positive and results-driven.” From my work as a trauma-informed conscious leadership coach to creative and technology agency owners, I’ve discovered that these four fundamentals are core to effective leadership:
1. Healing Trauma
According to Barbara Mutedzi, represented by Consciousness Leaders, the discussion around healing is not loud enough in the leadership space. That’s because it scares people away. She notes that it’s impossible to build a business or lead others beyond where one stands psychologically. Sadly, I’ve found that leaders often project their trauma and blind spots unconsciously. Wounded, or unconscious, leaders can be those at the helm of organizations with high employee attrition rates due to toxic culture, as well as unsustainable business practices.
Healing from past trauma can breed self-awareness, introspection, curiosity and more. It’s about letting go of the not-so-healthy habits that affect decisions and behaviors within the work environment. Leaders need to remember that it’s never so much about them as individuals but the value they bring with that individuality.
2. Modeling Vulnerability
Effective leaders embrace vulnerability. That means allowing themselves not to have all the answers and not being able to provide all the solutions. Being vulnerable is a part of being genuine, transparent and, most importantly, human. When a leader feels overwhelmed by obstacles and challenging situations, getting vulnerable could save them from emotional exhaustion by asking others for help.
Exposing vulnerability can also attract more respect and make leaders the kind of people others naturally want to follow. I’ve found that there is more productivity, greater trust and stronger bonds within the company culture when this happens.
3. Developing Compassionate Empathy
Compassion is one of the traits of a conscious and effective leader. Per the work of Daniel Goleman, a leader with compassionate empathy demonstrates:
- A high level of self-awareness
- Social skills
These factors show in the way the leader handles challenges, speaks to others and encourages people around them to improve. Compassionate empathy takes over with time and becomes an integral part of the corporate culture.
4. Creating More Leaders
Healing from past trauma also means overcoming sabotage that keeps other people in the workplace stuck in position. It means becoming the kind of leader who wants to see other people grow and inviting bold, audacious ideas that both support and challenge team members.
It’s crucial for leaders to remember that it shouldn’t be all about them. Overall, a leader who makes conscious efforts to heal from trauma can help others surpass any legacy they might leave on their own.
By starting on the journey toward healing, it’s easier to develop self-awareness and self-mastery, empathy, resilience, perseverance and a more profound sense of consciousness for all stakeholders. This is what conscious leadership is all about.