You’re Human: Coping Methods for Executives Facing Grief

In the work that we do here at BLT Strategies, we have discovered that executives, entrepreneurs, and business leaders are a unique brand of people. That’s not to say that individuals who aren’t in these positions are also not unique—it’s just that his particular group is different. In so many ways. They see life through a different lens—and that’s probably why they tend to be in the positions that they are in. But this also leads to the next thought. While they perceive life in a different way than others, they are hit with the same emotions, feelings, and thoughts as everyone else when faced with the reality of death.

Helping High Performers Cope

Because high performers are indeed, high performers—people who think they can do it all and keep it together all the time—it can be a tricky sort of situation getting them to actually take a step back and allow themselves the ability to grieve. And work through what death means to them.

Death is an intimate experience. For busy entrepreneurs and executives it can be especially personal because it doesn’t simply invite them to look in the mirror and examine their life, but it forces them to really work though questions related to the meaning of it all. Believe it or not, death can be an invitation to open one’s heart, experience the feelings of pain and grief, and then to honor a loved one by going back into the world (and into work when ready) to engage with an increased level of awareness and compassion for individual needs as well as the needs of other people.

The Grieving Process Cannot Be Abbreviated

When a loved one dies, the truth is that the grieving process is necessary in order to continue living. It is impossible to shorten it or manage it so it fits into a shorter time frame. Usually, this is a many year process, but the majority of people do not have the luxury (executives and entrepreneurs included) of waiting years and years to return to work. However, instead of forcing oneself back into the daily grind before feeling emotionally ready, we encourage high performers to be real, honor their experience, and share their feelings with the people around them.

Five Tools for Coping with Work Under the Strain of Grief

In our work, we regularly coach executives and business leaders through the grief process. While each individual’s situation is different, here are some common themes that we typically address. If you are a high performer facing a grief situation, consider the following:

  1. Be real. Understand that dealing with death is never going to be easy—in fact, it’s hell on earth. Losing someone wounds us to our core and makes us face emotions that we are usually unfamiliar with. However, allow yourself the ability to experience this, to really cry and let your feelings take their course. It’s okay to let it all out. Pushing on and pretending you are fine does not honor your individual experience, nor does it allow you to effectively memorialize your loved one.
  2. Remember to breathe. It’s easy for a high performer, because they have so many daily demands placed on them, to simply try to put a cork in the bottle that contains their emotions, fears, feelings, and thoughts. They are afraid to take a second to breathe because if they do, there is the opportunity for everything they have bottled up to come spilling out. However, our individual breaths provide a powerful message to the rest of our body—breathing in and out tells our heart and our mind that we are safe, secure, loved…and that everything will be okay. Give yourself some breathing room by taking a break, going for a walk or a run, stretching—and remember, just breathe.
  3. Connect with the people around you. Fight the urge to put up a barrier around yourself because people look to you to be in charge. Everyone around you—your peers, direct reports, family members, friends—all of them have experienced pain just like what you are going through. Allow yourself to become a member of this community by being honest about what you are feeling. You are allowed to be supported—don’t think that you have to be the captain at the helm of the ship all the time.
  4. Nurture yourself. Remember that your feelings matter as does every other function of your body. In order to prevent yourself from feeling abandoned and uncared for, take the time to take care of you. Go to a yoga class, meditate, sleep, eat nutrient-dense foods, drink a lot of water. Your loved one would want you to protect your health—honor their memory by paying close attention on how you feel.
  5. Practice patience. The grieving process is one that has many phases, and no matter how hard you try, you can’t rush it. Grant yourself the permission to heal slowly. Know that you are going to face many different feelings as you deal with firsts—the first holiday, the anniversary of a birthday, etc. Welcome the emotions as they come, wherever they come, at your desk, at home, in the shower, and work to connect with the memory of your loved one. It’s okay to feel how you do. After all, you’re only human.

In closing, remember that good can come from any experience. We think that when high performers learn how to share their experiences, join in community with others, ask for help, and apply the tips discussed in this article, there is a path created that heads toward wellness, productivity, and the ability to truly honor the memory of one who has passed.

For more information on how BLT Strategies can help you, visit us online at www.bltstrategies.com.

Mary Ellen Wasielewski