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The Learning Mindset In Crisis

Updated: Oct 19, 2023

Leading in Crisis with a Learning Mindset

When I returned to HR, my first job was working for a man whose wife died a few months after I started working.

As a widow, I tried to help his boss (my boss's boss) deal with the radical emotional shifts in working with a grieving employee. But I doubt I was very helpful. I was early in my HR career, and leadership principles weren't fully formed.

Since then, I have worked with managers dealing with grieving employees and teams and have learned that the difference between doing this well or messing it up centers around adopting a learning mindset.

As in life, there are hard things you can do in the short term that pay out great benefits in the long term. There are easy things you can do in the short term that cause great harm in the long term to your team, your confidence, and your reputation.

If you are managing grieving employees, here are three ideas I encourage you to embrace as you navigate through the murky waters of grief.

1. Embrace uncertainty.

Grief affects the brain in weird ways. For example, it makes some people short-tempered. One manager shared with me how after a team member died, another member's previously open attitude had become curt and impatient when dealing with stakeholders.

Your team is in emotional pain right now. Embracing the uncertainty of how they show up daily is integral to managing them well. This also goes for you, especially if your employee has died.

Remember, there is no normal right now. Everyone's brain is trying to cope. Embracing uncertainty is important.

2. Accept Your Mistakes.

And know that you will probably repeat them. When it comes to managing grief, you are going to make mistakes. PERIOD. You will say the wrong thing. You will forget something important, and you will offend other people.

Instead of condemning yourself, try giving yourself some grace. Learning means you don’t know. Your mistakes are how you are learning.

In addition, please remove the idea that you must learn from all your mistakes the first time. Some mistakes need to be made repeatedly until the message sinks in. Grieving minds are quite forgetful AND stubborn.

3. Find Ways to Say Yes

A common reaction to uncertainty is fear. Fear leads to nos. I like to encourage managers to say yes. It's important. Your team may come up with unique ways to divide up the work that needs to get done, or to support each other, the grieving employee, or their family.

Because things feel so out of control after a loss, and you know you still need to meet your goals, a manager's typical fallback is no. It feels safer and easier to shut down a new idea. Try defaulting to yes instead or at least a maybe and a discussion. Explore and learn why your team wants to do what they are suggesting. Your team is searching for ways to manage their grief, and letting them suggest and carry out some of their ideas is part of their healing process; when you say yes, you are giving them the space they need to heal.

Whether you are starting your career as a manager or have been at it for a while, managing a grieving employee or team takes courage, faith in humanity, and trusting that the next right action step will come even if you don’t see it right now.

That is what a learning mindset is about - courage, action, and faith.

Leading with a learning mindset can lead to incredible professional and personal growth, especially in a crisis. Our most profound learnings about ourselves and others often come from facing our deepest discomforts.

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