Warning, this article is full of mumbo-jumbo about self care. You probably should pass on this article (it's not like you've read the others). Our lives in service based industries, especially where responding to disasters large or small, bring us into contact with individuals, families and communities in various stages of trauma. While we understand that stress can tax our ability to maintain empathy or others and the strain of emergency response to water or fire related disasters at all hours of the day can cause us to be on edge, we may be neglecting the reality of the overall toll of this exposure. Laura van Dernoot Lipsky is pioneering a methodology outlined in her book Trauma Stewardship which provides An everyday guide to caring for self while caring for others.
If you are still reading, maybe you have witnessed the impact of secondary trauma in yourself and/or your response teams. In one profile outlined in the text, Cheri Maples who is the outgoing assistant attorney general for Wisconsin, discusses the revelation in her profession that there was high turnover in probation personnel which wasn’t as much related to training in the skills of the profession but rather a lack of training in personal care abilities. As she notes, “I realized we were losing people emotionally because of secondary trauma (p.138).” This has certainly been true with our teams, we know how to teach and master the skills of our professions but we don't always know how to master caring for ourselves so that we can operate at our full capacity in serving others. The value of being awake, present and aware can be taken for granted or even dismissed as being something for the gurus who deal in mythology but not in the real world. Yet the opposite isn’t seen as dangerous as it is often the status quo across multiple professions, I.E. being numb, detached and disconnected from the cumulative impact of professional stress exposure.
As noted in the book, the basis of trauma stewardship is applying many of those same principles that professionals share with their clients and utilizing those methods to care for themselves. In many ways trauma stewardship is simply walking what you’re talking, or living what you preach to others. We seem better equipped to see and respond to the needs of others without taking into account the impact of that distress on our lives as well as those on our team. Cheri notes that there are three key things to taking care of yourself, first understanding the cycle for what it is, second is having friends outside of your profession and third is developing a daily practice of care (p.141). By understanding these principles we can establish methods to lead by example and enable our teams to care for each other.
There is a cycle, whether you can see it or not, where we are tempted to turn ourselves off to what we are experiencing in order to cope with our daily tasks. It’s easily missed as standard operating procedures but this coping mechanism should be a red flag to ourselves and those that care about us that there needs to be a change in how we approach our profession. Key to caring for yourself so that you can operate within your strengths is realizing that you need to do so. Whether you are a professional caring for others in trauma or someone who is helping others in various stages of need, take the same principles that you would share with those you are serving and make sure that you are applying those concepts in your own life. Walk your talk.
If our social circle is only composed of those who also work with us, there can be a negative reinforcement of the us-versus-them mentality that can prohibit you from seeking additional perspectives. While our friends in our field know the day to day stresses and unique challenges that we face, all parties need additional influences that can help them see things in new ways and perhaps can detect unhealthy behaviors that those in our industry would overlook as normative. Helpful insights can come from good peer discussions or they can also come from seeking mentor relationships. As we have noted previously, “Professional athletes have coaches and trainers even though they are at the very height of their professional skills, earning, and influence. Seeking the assistance of someone who can assist you to tug, carry, or chart your way through the murky waters of personal development can be a very positive and fulfilling addition to your professional adventure (Isaacson, 2017).”
Developing a daily practice of care is something Lipsky goes into greater detail sharing the five directives which include inquiry, focus, balance and community. Tools such as breathing, exercising, utilizing music or sounds, rest and other positive habits are important to helping you maximize your capacity to operate within your values. If we find ourselves in a position of leadership it is important for us to be aware of these issues so that we can lead by example and facilitate practices within our teams that help identify, respond and equip our team members to remain healthy. Whether we lead many or simply lead ourselves, failure to recognize these obstacles and the tools available to positively respond to them we are cutting ourselves short of our full ability.
Lipsky, L. v. D., & Burk, C. (2009). Trauma stewardship: An everyday guide to caring for self while caring for others. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
Isaacson, J. (September 5, 2017) How to identify the right mentor. The Daily Positive. Retrieved from https://www.thedailypositive.com/identify-right-mentor/#sthash.N759aPeB.dpuf
Without collaboration from the bottom up and organization will struggle to prevent the inevitable crumbling due to avoidable design failures.
Business people from corporate executives to popular consultants on down to you average small business owner (down in the sense of scale not respect), often refer to business as a jigsaw puzzle. Life hands you an opportunity with a picture in mind but when it comes to reaching that vision it turns that if you want to succeed out there is a lot more work involved than just opening the box. Project management, which is a fancy term for the nuts and bolts on how stuff gets done, is more like a real world version of the classic block tower suspense game, Jenga. If you remember Jenga, it's a series of unilaterally sized blocks that are stacked together and each player has to take a piece out of the tower and reassemble at the top. Eventually the tower crumbles, it has to, but the goal is to not be the one who placed the final and fatal piece. The life lesson is so apt - don't be the fall guy or at least don't be the last one with your fingerprints on the block. Let's break this down a little further.
First reality that Jenga teaches us about project management is that every organization has a great idea that starts with The Beautiful Plan. When Jenga, as a metaphor for an organization's next ground breaking business plan, is brought out of the closet where only the best ideas are stored everyone gathers around and celebrates. It's looks so beautiful and tidy in its snappy packaging with it's protective shield and the perfectly aligned pieces to the vertical puzzle. The plan is bullet proof they say. This can't lose they say. We've ran the numbers and it's going to be huge they say. To the optimist every plan is great and most visionaries are optimists. Once the packaging is set, the suits have bought into the vision and the protective shield has been placed around the fixture, it's up to the project managers and technicians to make the idea work. If the plan works the creators of the plan will take all the credit along with the rewards, if the plan fails then the blame will fall upon the last person to have touched the project. Oh, the beautiful plan. While the author is unknown, the sentiment is spot on with regards to the working definition of the key word teamwork, "Teamwork means you always have someone else to blame."
The second reality of Jenga falls in line with the laws of thermodynamics, everything is subject to entropy. Entropy is basically chaos or the reality that all things, including systems, will eventually break down over time. Author Lex Sisney applies these laws of science to his approach to business in his book Organizational Physics noting that the counter to entropy that will enable success is integration. Integration is both the measure of energy going into a system or process as well as the measure of efficiency in applying that available energy to productive outlets. Sisney, who is the co-founder and CEO of the world's largest affiliate marketing company, notes that, "When we manage the dynamic between entropy and integration with awareness and the right balance – that’s when we meet our potential to be successful beyond expectation." Jenga reflects many organizational ideas that are beautiful in the box but are inherently designed to fail when the plan does not value the collaboration at all levels in the implementation of the plan. For Jenga the pieces are moved in such a fashion that the goal is not to be the last one with the fatal piece, winning the game or business conducted in this manner isn't success it's status quo.
The third principle that Jenga teaches us about successful project management is that if either or both of the prior two principles are true then the result will always be the same. Too often a project goes into sequence and the originators of the vision cannot or will not receive constructive criticism so either the team members are silent to their qualified objections or they are silenced when they bring their concerns to the leadership table. When admiring the package the vision was delivered in and protecting the pride of those whose crafted the concepts is more important that achieving the goals, a project is destined for failure. Diversity in backgrounds, ideas, upbringing, professional experience and culture are all valuable to an organization because they broaden the perspective of the team. If an organization fosters value, input and collaboration from all levels then there is a fighting chance for that team to achieve their collective vision rather than continuing to build and maintain towers designed to crumble.
Toyota has long been studied and copied for their commitment to quality in production and their ability to streamline their processes. Anyone who has studied Kaizen or lean management principles has heard about the andon cord that was a revolutionary staple in the Toyota facilities. This andon cord was a means of empowering every employee along the line of production to have real input in maintaining the quality of the Toyota vision. By pulling the red cord which was strewn throughout the workstations the individual employees could stop the assembly, a huge potential cost to the organization, for quality or other concerns. Through this system Toyota creates a clear culture around the concept of quality and generates accountability within the system that empowers the organization from the bottom up. Some people have said that Toyota is doing away with the andon cord, which actually isn't true, the red cord is being replaced with a yellow button that is wireless. Toyota isn't reverting to pre-Kaizen methodologies because it was too costly, they are updating the system to create better usage at the ground levels of their organization.
If you are in business, your organization is like a Jenga tower, forces are always pulling at the blocks of your company and ready to see it crumble whether those forces are natural such as entropy or external in the form of competition the pressure is there. As noted above the counter measure to entropy is integration and one of the greatest benefits of team collaboration from the bottom up is ensuring that the pressure that crumbles your organization doesn't come from within. Most great civilizations have disappeared into history not because they were conquered by their enemies but by being torn apart internally. If leadership does not seek, does not listen and does not receive input from every level of their organization they will notice that team members become silent which will create a great void in the companies ability to sustain success. (Read more on our article How Open is That Open Door - HERE) As in parenting, managers should not be concerned when employees are bringing issues to them as this often communicates that those team members still care, rather a leader should be concerned when the team is silent. Nothing good rarely results when children or employees are silent.
Connect. Collaborate. Conquer
Thoughts on personal and professional development.
Jon Isaacson, The Intentional Restorer, is a contractor, author, and host of The DYOJO Podcast. The goal of The DYOJO is to help growth-minded restoration professionals shorten their DANG learning curve for personal and professional development. You can watch The DYOJO Podcast on YouTube on Thursdays or listen on your favorite podcast platform.