Become part of The Dark Side of Resilience Interview Project
I can now look back and see the profound impact an early trauma had on my life which fueled a lifelong interest in human behavior and resilience (read blog here).
I always looked at the sudden loss of my sibling when I was 7 years old as a shock to my parents and me. But it wasn’t until I was in my 50’s that a comment by a therapist led me to the research on trauma.
Suddenly I could see the pattern of managing my entire life to minimize big emotional shocks in order to stay safe. This gave me a successful life on the surface, but, as I soon discovered, the over-managing I learned to do as a youngster was largely responsible for creating the conditions that resulted in life as I knew it collapsing many decades later over an 18-month period.
About 75% of people will experience a traumatic event in their lifetime, something that shakes them to their very core (Upside, Jim Rendon, 2015). Trauma can be an accident, a loss, a setback, being a victim of a crime, or many other things. It is in the eye of the beholder and his/her nervous system.
Of those who do, 43-60% will eventually report significant positive changes that resulted through their recovery process. The trauma is often an opening for growth, forcing an expanded perspective, greater confidence, even more appreciation of life itself. This phenomenon is known as post-traumatic growth. It’s most available to those who eventually become willing participants in letting go of how life used to be and building a new one around the new reality.
But as my own story illustrates, the initial coping skills one develops after a trauma are often lopsided and rigid, albeit highly rewarded by society. These include tendencies to over-function, over-manage, to be perfectionistic and overly self-reliant. I call this the dark side of resilience.
It may be many years before over-reliance on these skills drives our lives out of balance, but sooner or later, it can make us vulnerable to new trauma. As life unfolds, new threats are inevitable, but they can be made far worse if our only strategy is keeping everything under control.
The Interview Project with Leaders
I work with leaders and emerging leaders because they set the agenda for the future of our world (as Bob Anderson and Bill Adams say in Mastering Leadership).
What I’ve seen with many of my high-achieving clients is that those with a tendency to be over-committed and overwhelmed are often able to recall an early event after which they decided to stay ‘safe’ by adopting all kinds of strategies that help them show up successfully for a while but eventually push them out of balance.
For example, they may cope at first by working harder than anyone else. Eventually they will need to learn to slow down in order to notice things they’re moving too fast to see. Their ongoing success depends on it.
I’ve seen other leaders who got where they are by pleasing everyone. Eventually they must learn to take the risk of taking a stand on an issue that won’t please some people, and must learn to tolerate being okay with that. Until they do, they’re not free to respond in full integrity.
So I’m seeking leaders who are willing to be interviewed for 90 minutes about this relatively unexplored area of the impact of early trauma on their leadership.
I’ve been collecting tools and strategies for resilience for many years now. My plan is to begin writing a blog about these leadership habit patterns to raise awareness and to share the practices that leaders find useful in staying flexible, resilient and authentic.
Resilient Leadership Interview Questions
A definition of trauma is an event or non-event that ‘shook you to the core’. It could be being fired, divorce, an accident or health scare, being a victim of crime or natural disaster, or being chronically bullied. It’s ultimately in the eye of the beholder. What might seem tough but life-as-usual to one person could actually be a trauma to your unique nervous system.
- What is your current role? (level, number of direct/indirect reports, how long, industry)
- What about being a leader is easiest for you? What is most challenging?
- When you first moved into supervision, what was the hardest part to adjust to, after being an individual contributor?
- What was the trauma you experienced (trauma is defined as something that ‘shook you to your core’)?
- What skills did your trauma force you to master as you moved forward?
- How did you learn to get your needs met after your trauma?
- Do you see any connection between what’s easy for you as a leader and your trauma?
- Do you see any connection between what’s challenging for you as a leader and your trauma?
- Do you have a family of your own? If so what are your children’s ages?
- Do you see any connection between your particular style of parenting and your trauma?
- In the many years since your trauma, has there been an ‘echo’ trauma, where there was another dramatic shift in life as you knew it that caught you by surprise? What relationship between your early trauma and this later difficulty do you see?
- What physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual practices help you stay grounded and flexible? How have you developed the inner ‘muscles’ that used to be weak?