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Supporting Executives through Grief

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Grief presents a unique set of professional challenges for high profile executives, including:

  • Visibility. High profile executives are often required to be highly visible in their roles. They have investors, customers, and employees looking to them for an indication that everything is going to be all right.
  • There’s no clear standard as to how executives should deal with grief, and multiple variables causing potential impact.  People process things differently; there is no correct way to grieve.
  • Perceived hardiness. In corporate culture, a stigma exists depicting emotional expressiveness as a sign of weakness. This lessens the likelihood of executives reaching out to access even the best of benefits potentially available to them.
  • Role identification. In his book Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy, William Worden posits that a dimension of personality that may hinder grief is one’s self concept.  Each of us has ideas about who we are, and generally we try to live within our definition of ourselves.  If part of a person’s self-concept is that they are the one with all of answers, they feel they need to appear strong, that people are looking to them for guidance; they may find themselves playing that role to their own detriment.  It may be a struggle to allow themselves to experience the feelings required for an adequate resolution of a loss. Which leads to the saying we’ve all heard: “What you resist, persists.”

Grief is known to affect the parasympathetic nervous system, the prefrontal cortex, and the limbic system; which could have significant impact on an individual.  However, if negotiated with awareness, utilizing the resources available, even growth can be possible following a disruptive event.  This could explain more efforts to reduce stigma around mental health initiatives, a focus on resiliency, and an increase in public figures speaking openly about their own experiences, and the experts that they turned to.

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, has spoken recently about undertaking a campaign to help people push on, bounce back from adversity and find joy again.  She has written extensively about her experiences with grief after her husband died, and it was the central theme in her new book.  In a recent interview, she spoke about the power in acknowledgment, and how her experiences around that impacted her return to work.

At R3 Continuum, we offer an Executive Concierge Service so that our clients can acknowledge the needs of their executives. Our panel of executive concierge consultants and executive coaches provide support for negotiating life’s personal and professional challenges, with an understanding of the cultural nuances facing today’s rising executives.

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