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Leading through Grief

When I began writing this article, my intention was to share what I have learned in my experience as a Leadership, Executive, End of Life Coach and Facilitator, with the goal of advising others on how to manage being a leader through times of grief.

Little did I know that life was about to put me through the ultimate test.

For the past 6 months, I found myself needing to show up as a leader, whether it was to facilitate workshops, coaching, or be a mother of six -- all while experiencing profound grief caused by the atrocities we are witnessing in the world and a personal loss in my family.

There were days when I didn't want to face the world. I wanted to hide, avoid the grief, and numb my emotions.

But I knew that avoiding it would lead to unpleasant and unhealthy consequences. So, instead of hiding my grief, I chose to include it. I spoke about it when facilitating workshops and shared that at times I was struggling.

My vulnerability and authenticity gave others permission and the space to do the same. And we still delivered the training and got the work done. In fact, it was even more effective because people were able to be real, demystify their grief, and learn how to navigate it in a real-world setting.

They were able to be human.

The Twins of Grief and Leadership

If these past years and the current state of the world have taught me anything, it's that understanding and managing grief is an important part of leadership and being a leader.

As David Kessler put it, “to miss grief is to miss a vital part of leadership.” My experience helping organizations to create grief-safe leaders and environments has shown me that our personal relationship with grief greatly impacts how we show up, lead teams, and create culture.

Leaders who make space for grief - both their own and others - create more inclusive, supportive work environments and cultures.

The following pointers can help you as you navigate grief personally and make space for it for others at work:

Start by understanding the basics about grief. Grief is both universal and unique. Universal in the sense that if you are alive, you will inevitably experience grief. Nevertheless, it is unique in the sense that everyone experiences grief differently,  Just as no two people share the same fingerprint, no two people will have the same experience of grief.

Understanding the different types of grief and loss can help us to be effective leaders both personally and professionally. The categories of grief consist of–yet are not limited to: Death Grief, Non-Death Grief, Ambiguous Grief, Non-Finite Grief, Cumulative Grief, and Collective Grief.

Then work to recognize the impacts of grief in the workplace. Grief can manifest itself in behaviors such as loss of productivity, retention, prolonged sickness and absence, reduced quality and quantity of work, decreased engagement, concentration and memory loss, conflict and tension within work relationships, alcohol and drug abuse, as well as financial instability.

Understanding and accommodating these impacts requires a high level of competency in emotional intelligence, decision-making, adaptability, communication, and resilience. Leaders who can regulate their own emotions and empathize with those of their team members foster a more empathetic and productive workplace environment. Leaders should seek support and input from others in decision-making to help mitigate the potential negative effects of grief while also ensuring that crucial decisions are still being made.

5 Ways to Create Grief-Safe Workplaces

Lead by Example: Leaders are not immune to loss or grief. Share your personal experiences of grief and how you cope to model to others how to manage difficult emotions in a healthy way. This vulnerability and authenticity fosters an openness among team members, encouraging them to share their own struggles and seek support when needed.

Build a Supportive Culture: Leaders have a responsibility to support their team members through challenging times. As a leader, you should be attentive to the team's well-being, provide resources for support, and offer flexibility in work arrangements when necessary.

Demonstrating genuine concern and understanding helps employees feel valued and supported during challenging times and can create a sense of belonging and trust within the team. By building a workplace culture that values employee well-being, you will prepare the organization to respond to grief compassionately and thoughtfully.

Balance Productivity and Well-Being: Effective leaders strike a balance between maintaining productivity and promoting employee well-being. You must acknowledge grief as a natural part of life and recognize the need for emotional healing to contribute to a healthier work environment.

Lead Through Collective Grief: When organizations or teams face collective grief due to a shared loss (e.g. death of a colleague, mass layoffs, company setbacks), or societal grief (mass shootings, war, natural disasters) leaders should guide the team through the grieving process by acknowledging the loss, providing outlets for expression, and fostering a sense of unity as the team moves forward together.

Honor grief to create change and results: By including grief in the workplace, leaders encourage team members to channel their grief to find direction, meaning, and purpose. For some, realizing the brevity of life and deciding to make the most of the future can be the catalyst to disrupt the status quo, try new things, increase engagement, and drive progress.


Overall, the way leaders navigate grief can deeply impact the organizational culture and the well-being of their team members.

The balance of compassion, understanding, and support while maintaining a commitment to achieving objectives, requires recognizing the impact of grief and adapting leadership strategies to accommodate the needs of grieving team members.

In this way, we can create a supportive work environment and allow the experience of grief to inform the individuals, teams, and organizations we want to see in our collective future.


Rachel Baldi is a Co-Active Leadership, End-of-Life, Grief Coach & Facilitator. She is the Co-Founder of UpLevel Productions that exists to uplevel consciousness in leaders, organizations and humanity by building coaching cultures inside organizations and training workplaces to be Grief-Safe. She is the best-selling co-writer of the emotional wellness book for children: Lil' Amina & The Adventure of Grief. When she isn’t working, she is raising her 6 beautiful children, or can be found pottering around in her garden.


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