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Leading Through Change

How To Handle Grief


You’ve heard us say it before: change is a difficult journey, and it's full of highs and lows. If you've seen our Change Infographic, you know of the fall down into the cavernous pit and the perilous climb out of it. The fall and the darkness of the pit is where grief happens. 

Grief is a difficult hurdle to overcome in the process. A team member can be grieving for a variety of reasons, and it is the responsibility of the leader to figure out what those reasons are to understand the best way to help. 

It’s a bumpy road, and we’ve all been there - so we all know how to traverse it! But sometimes it takes a little help to do so. The following 4 questions are answered to shed light on the grieving process, and how leaders can best help their team members on their change journey.


1. Do I just say "there, there" and offer Kleenex?

That depends on the person. People who are grieving need different things. They need tools, space, and time to process their grief. They need grace while they behave (sometimes badly), and boundaries to prevent them from doing dumb stuff. They need room to have creative outlets. People who are grieving need to know that someone cares, that someone is listening, and that someone hears them. They need to know that it isn’t the end of the world, while having someone else understand that it kind of feels like it is. They need space to speak and to be human. Discover how you can be helpful to each team member as an individual. The needs of the team as a whole, as well as the individual needs, will not be the same. You will need to discuss with each person to determine what they need. 


2. What if someone on my team is not accepting a raft or preserver?

In other words, someone is not accepting your attempts to help. This is not inherently a reflection of you. Sometimes grief makes people do strange things, so offer help as best as you can! If you have a strong relationship with this person, and a deep understanding of emotional intelligence, it may be easier to figure out what this person needs as an individual. One suggestion is to create choices that don’t have “no” as an option. For instance, instead of asking “Would you like a raft?” which gives them an easy way to say “No thanks, I’m fine,” try “Which would you prefer, a red raft or a green raft?” This is asking the person how you can help. “I can either do this, or this. Which would you prefer?”


3. How do I manage Kleenex, rafts, etc. all at the same time?

This is part of why no one person can drive change alone – when you assemble your change champions, you have others to tap into when you need an extra set of hands, arms or voices. Plan your day around messages you need to give and people you can encourage, and when possible, let a change champion help cheer up the next person so you don’t have to do it all alone. There may be some team members that don’t need as much time to grieve, or perhaps they are excited about the change and can help inspire those feelings in others. Pick those individuals out from the crowd and implore them to help you drive the change, and help others through their grieving process. 


4. How do I help without sacrificing too much?

Secure your own mask before helping the person next to you. Make sure your own bucket is full or you won’t be able to fill anyone else’s bucket! Leadership is about pouring into others. As a leader, you pour into others your knowledge, skills, techniques, that inner compass, and your heart. There is something naturally sacrificial about it because you have to give something. The key is knowing your own limits. Do you have the time and energy to keep providing this help? At the end of the day, stuff still has to get done. Allow your team the time and space to grieve, and continue to remind them of the end goal. Encourage them, and yourself, to keep fighting to reach the finish line. 

How do you help your team through their grieving process? How are you a change leader? Let us know what works well for you!




Topics: Sinikka Waugh, Change & Transition, Leadership & Influence

Sinikka Waugh

About the Author

Sinikka Waugh

Sinikka Waugh is a recognized leader in understanding people and in adapting tools, techniques, and processes to meet the demands of the situation at hand. Since 2006, Sinikka has provided compassionate leadership in transformation initiatives. When she isn’t in front of a class, she enjoys putting her background in English and French Literature to work, by writing blogs about the subjects she teaches every day. Are you ready? If you are, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us! contactus@yourclearnextstep.com








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