How Fearless Leaders help others grieve


The good news/bad news for you is this: It’s time to do less, talk less, and become an observer.




“Listening looks easy. But it’s not. Every head is a world.”
“Cada cabeza es un mundo.”





Heard from fearless leaders this week:

‘I have to make fast, urgent decisions every day. 

How do I help my staff who don’t handle rapid change well?’ 

‘I think I should check in personally with each of my frontline staff. 

Once a day seems like overkill, but is once a week enough?’

‘Writing an all-office email that was the right balance of information and reassurance was   – – – exhausting.’


For each situation, there were solutions. But as my colleague Mike Plaster says, ‘Solutions aren’t always the solution.’

We have to start with this understanding: Everyone we’re interacting with right now – our client, our spouse, our partner, our employee – is experiencing loss and grief.

Under stress we’re not at our best. And now we’re all operating under sustained stress in a time of loss. We’re all grieving some loss and having what David Kessler calls ‘anticipatory grief’.

As a fearless leader, you have to approach people with that understanding.
And you have to start by knowing that it’s true for you too.

Expect people’s traits to be magnified under pressure. Whatever your own strengths were as a leader, you’re probably over-relying on them now, maybe to a fault. What was hard for you before might seem impossible now, or when you have to do it – like my client writing that perfect email – you end up exhausted.

When people are grieving, words often don’t make a difference. How many times in the past few weeks have you heard someone say, “I’m glad you’re here.”

“I’m glad we have each other.”?  It’s not “I’m glad you said all those words”.

It’s the presence of others, attentive to each other that matters.

Fewer words. More presence.



“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear”




My friend Jon Gierlich was an artist who professionally called himself an Observer.

The good news/bad news for you is this:

It’s time to do less, talk less, and become an observer.

Do less. Talk less. Observe more.


Hold on and read those words again. How do they make you feel? Relief? Or even more burdened? How you feel reflects where you perceive your strengths lie. If you’re people-oriented and prefer a slower pace, you might feel relieved to set aside all the ‘things’ and give your attention to noticing how people are really doing.

If you thrive in problem-solving, speed, and action, you might resist or reject the call to slow down and be present with people.

But now as a leader you’re called on to try harder. (Sorry.) You have to put even more effort into each interaction. (Sorry again!) You need to adjust your behavior to meet each person where they are, mindful of their grief.


It’s time to let up on the problem-solving and focus on people.

Try this:

Practice the intentional awkward pause.

Pay attention. Let others talk more.

Stay quiet so they’ll say more.


How are you doing? No, really. What was hardest for you today?

Let me know how it goes and how I may help.





“It’s all about paying attention. Attention is vitality. It connects you with others.”



Photos taken inside Le Corbusier’s Chapelle Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp, France.
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