Leading Through Tragic Times

Tragedies in life often cause us to question everything about life. Tragedies unearth the fragility of life. It’s hard to relax when things are fragile. The unspeakable murder of 50 individuals at an Orlando night club is a tragedy that no one should have to endure, but alas here we are. Although many people have their opinion about the attack and what motivated it, I will not spend this post speculating. All the issues this horrific incident may touch, a massive loss of human life in this manner is unspeakably tragic and should be treated with the highest level of sensitivity as possible.

Whether you lead students in or out of the classroom or you lead people in your family or in the office undoubtedly you have had to face people that have gone through difficult and sometimes tragic times. I am sure you’ve had to conduct “business as usual” in the midst of the multiple elephants in the room that surface through circumstances in society. If you oversee any person in any area of life there will be times that terrible things will happen but you will still have to lead them effectively. In this article we will go over 4 ways you can lead through tragic times. The Orlando shooting inspired this article, but these 4 things can be utilized for other incidents as well.

– Be clear about what team you’re on.
– Send negativity vertically not horizontally.
– Offer sincere empathy.
– Be transparent & compassionate.

Let’s discuss each in detail…

Be Clear About What Team You’re On
For the record, you’re on the team of those you lead. I am not saying that you should compromise your core beliefs, what I am saying is that as a leader of people you have to be mindful of why you are in the position you are in. You are in the business of getting individuals to work together for a particular goal. Whether you work with student activities, SGA, or any other group, your leadership is mostly about them, not you. I had to learn this early in my career. When a school hires me to speak, they’re not hiring me to divulge my private thoughts about the hot topics of the day, they’re hiring me to build their leaders. When divisive issues come up, let your team know you’re on their side and you have their back. If it’s an individual crisis someone is dealing with don’t pry too much, simply let them know that you are there for them if they need an ear to hear them. In instances like the tragic shooting in Orlando no matter your beliefs, you should be on the team of those that have lost their lives and their families that they leave behind. We should all be on team humanity.

Send Negativity Vertically Not Horizontally
When tragedies occur we all want someone to be held accountable. We’re human and we all seek answers and want someone to be held responsible for their actions. I urge you to fight the inclination to send negativity horizontally meaning to the people that are on your level such as associates, subordinates, and social media pundits. If as a leader you have a negative feeling about anything related to a tragedy send your negativity vertically. This can be taken two ways depending on your belief system. The first way it can be taken is by taking your negativity above your head through prayer. Prayer is a powerful tool that activates the knowledge recognizing we truly don’t have as much control over our lives as we like to think. Secondly, taking negativity vertically could be taking it to an elder in your family or someone who can offer a proper perspective. Either way you look at it, you do not want to share negative feelings you have with the people following you. Imagine if the pilot of a plane shared the fact they have bad anxiety before they fly and they were afraid to pilot your flight. How comfortable would that make you? Do your very best to project as much positivity as possible to the people that follow you and send all negativity vertically.

Offer People Sincere Empathy
Oftentimes when we face uncomfortable situations we meet the discomfort with sarcasm in an attempt to be funny to ease the tension. Many times we are not nearly as funny as we think we are and the sarcasm can have a negative impact. In wake of the tragic shooting in Orlando you have to fight your urge to be tongue and cheek, it’s not the time. As a leader you should offer sincere empathy. Even if you don’t understand their pain you can offer solutions by doing 2 things: sincerely listening to those affected and by not disregarding their feelings. If you happen to be a heterosexual and subscribe to a faith that does not openly support homosexuality, remember we are all on team humanity and just because someone doesn’t decide to live like you do, doesn’t mean for a second they don’t deserve to live. For other tragedies and incidents, if someone you lead is of a different race and something happens racially, even if you cannot imagine what it’s like to be them, sincerely listen and do not disregard their feelings. Give them a real solution, be an ally for them and take their side when it is appropriate. The biggest thing you want to convey to someone that is polarized in pain is that they are not alone.

Be transparent & compassionate
Which leads me to the last point which is transparency and compassion in the midst of tragedy. By transparency I do not mean you’ve got to get on the psychologist’s couch and tell them about all of your issues, I mean in relation to the situation at hand you are transparent about the things you know and understand. Don’t act like you know everything, in fact, as a leader you should wait to fully comment until you know more information. One of the most disheartening things I’ve heard in the last couple of days in relation to the Orlando tragedy was a tweet that said: “Well there are 50 less homosexuals (edited) in the world!” Wow…really? Where’s the compassion? Is there no regard for human life in this person’s mind? Now I admit I am not the most sensitive guy in the world, but if someone is in pain and you don’t get their pain, at least be silent, why say anything. Before you tell people how much you have or how much you know, tell them how much you care. The lack of compassion on social media nowadays is unreal. Don’t perpetuate this in your face to face interactions with people. Sit them down, look them in the eyes and tell them, “I’m sorry that this tragedy happened. How this is making you feel?” or “Wow, I hate that this happened to you, I am here for you.”

You can lead through tragic and difficult times. Sadly this incident is not the last hate crime that will happen in our history. Evil is very real and as a leader you have to continue to be light in the midst of darkness and continue to make an impact.


Do you have any advice on leading through tragedies? If so please reply to this email or comment below. We’d love to have your suggestions to pass along to others.


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Until next time….


Sierra's sugar daddy. Makayla's real daddy. Bugs that I don't recognize startle me. Speaker, writer, and off stage comedian. Zack Morris & Cory Matthews rolled into one (with a dark tan).

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