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An Empathetic Approach To Trauma Informed Leadership

empathy holistic leadership leadership development trauma Jan 19, 2021



At the Talent Magnet Institute we want to focus on empathy and caring well for our employees and those on our team. With a new year in view, it’s a good time to remember that the likely outcome of a crisis is trauma. If you are leading with empathy you will recognize that surviving 2020 isn’t the only traumatic thing to happen in your people’s lives, and for that reason, learning to implement practices and procedures that are developed with Trauma Informed Care principles is paramount. 


“Trauma Informed Care” is an approach that develops procedures, protocols, and practices with the assumption that every individual is more likely than not to have a history of trauma. 


You might be asking, “what kind of trauma?” This assumed history of trauma could refer to anything from mental health, sexual abuse or substance abuse, to trajedy or even mistreatment through contol and manipulation in a previous workplace. 


“When trauma occurs, it affects an individual's sense of self, their sense of others and their beliefs about the world. These beliefs can directly impact an individual's ability or motivation to connect with and utilize support services” - Buffalo Center for Social Research.  


With this in mind, Trauma Informed Care seeks to change the culture of the environment in order to protect the vulnerable and establish a place of safety and security. Work environments should promote recovery and healing rather than triggering or re-traumatizing their team members. 


“Re-traumatization” can happen when the systems in place call for practices such as re-telling one’s story or labeling disorders and/or when work relationships are non collaborative or coercive. Punitive and oppressive language and environments that do not allow for choices or a sense of being heard are triggering and cause re-traumatization as well. 


A Trauma Informed Care environment emphasizes understanding in its strategies and processes and respect in its interactions, communications and expectations. This type of environment will see employees benefit in areas of connection, support and motivation.


If you find there is a need for restructuring in your practices, in order to have an empathetic approach to trauma, here are a few ways to move forward on that aim. 


  1. Address any potential re-traumatizing policies 
  2. Establish an internal trauma team 
  3. Conduct early and respectful trauma screening 
  4. Ensure administrative commitment to integrating a trauma informed culture 
  5. Provide Trauma Informed Training for all staff 



The first step to an empathetic approach to trauma as a leader is to shift your thinking.

When someone’s behavior causes you to think “What is wrong with this person?” reframe that thought to “What has happened to this person?” This will help you build an awareness and tolerance of the psychological traumas that underlie a host of circumstances.


The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration outlines the following process for a trauma informed approach within a program; we’ve listed the process below as an excellent personal practice for any leader.


Realize the widespread impact of trauma and understand potential paths for recovery;


Recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff, and others involved with the system;

Respond by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices; and

Seek to actively resist re-traumatization.

“Trauma Informed Leadership is a way of understating or appreciating there is an emotional world of experiences rumbling around beneath the surface.

When emotional responses are triggered in the workplace, each person responds according to the extent of their emotional scars, traumas and emotional strengths.” - Dave Tweedy, Ph.D 

Helping your people heal, by way of leading them well, is not only a good thing… it is brave and an honorable pursuit! While it may feel daunting to begin adjusting procedures to help your people feel safe emotionally, remember that there are resources and an abundance of help available. At Talent Magnet Institute, we are committed to helping leaders lead with empathy, for more on this topic visit our free leadership course.

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