True leadership is not measured solely by accomplishments, but by the compassion and support we extend to our grieving employees during their darkest hours. In this powerful episode, we are joined by the dynamic and experienced Dr. William Ramey. Grief is a universal experience that knows no boundaries, infiltrating every aspect of our lives. Recognizing its profound impact in the workplace, Dr. Will discusses how leaders can effectively support grieving employees. He explains how as people navigate the challenges of grief, it becomes evident that it is not a solitary journey. Dr. Will shares how supervisors and leaders can gain a newfound understanding of sensitively navigating this difficult terrain alongside their team members. Tune in now and learn how to lead with your heart in supporting grieving employees.
Thank you for viewing this post. I am not a licensed therapist or professional life coach.
I am sharing my experience of loving the same man for 32 years, a mother to two adult children, a retired military officer, a breast cancer survivor, and my connections with others.
Anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts should reach out to a suicide hotline or local emergency number in their country https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/suicide/suicide-prevention-hotlines-resources-worldwide
Watch the episode here
Listen to the podcast here
Leading With Heart: How Leaders Can Support Grieving Employees With Dr. William Ramey
Our guest is Mr. Will Ramey. He is an award-winning leadership expert and decorated combat veteran who delivers high-energy, engaging presentations and workshops. In 2001, Will began his career leading a wide spectrum of teams including military police, maintenance, warehousing and distribution, space control, operations, manufacturing, production, and city management. Will is the Founder of Shared Leadership LLC, a full-spectrum leadership and team development firm focused on strengthening a team’s effectiveness using experimental learning and coaching.
Will is co-authoring a book through Stanford University Press on shared leadership to shift the organization’s perspective on leadership from the industrial age into the digital age of work. He is a certified coach and certified Lego Serious Play Workshop Facilitator. Will received his Undergraduate degree from Youngstown State University, a Master’s degree from Webster University, and a Doctorate from Drexel University. He is a leadership award to include the US Army Bronze Star in the US Army Accommodation Medal along with others. Will is a personal colleague of mine, and I’m looking forward to this discussion. Let’s get into it now.
My guest is Mr. Will Ramey.
How are you? How have you been? It’s been a few years.
It has been since my last day at The Depot that we probably talked in person in 2017. We’ve texted a couple of times and we’ve had some conversation, but as far as seeing your face and talking to you, it was that last brief that I presented on the program that I was transferring. At that time, it was the highest public-private partnership that we had at The Depot and I was changing that over. Literally, I was told I could not leave The Depot until that brief.
I remember that conversation and those circumstances.
That’s not a place that I thought when I was leaving The Depot that day that I would ever honestly be able to say that I am happy and not just existing. At that point when you saw me, I literally was existing. It was a year after Mark passed. I knew digging myself out of the snow to go to work is not something I was a fan of, so I needed to move coming here to Virginia, being here with my sister, and now my mom and my son are here, and friends that I’ve had for such a long time, being able to rally around me. Support has been wonderful.
The move for you getting down there and support made sense. I’m a fan of the show. I’ve been watching a few episodes and catching up. Hearing your story has jogged my memory about, “I remember when this happened.” I’m trying to place my timeline because we had worked together for a short period of time and then we had been cross paths during our time at The Depot together. I remember the time period that you talked about in your opening episode.
It was daunting as I’m having conversations with people and reliving. I was like, “It was that bad.” It probably made it even more publicized where I was working because I had been one of the interns and you get a lot of visibility of that. The other thing is we went without a chaplain at The Depot. I was standing in doing some chaplain-ish type of things as my schedule permitted to be able to support.
There were a lot of people that I connected with that if I was a regular little LMS doing my job and then being in the business office, it gave me more connections with people. Because of that, of the level of people that were genuinely concerned and supportive, I feel like leveraged me to be able to use that same love on this show to be able to help many people that I’ve spoken to that don’t have a support group that has been experiencing grief during the pandemic in a very closed off scenario and not having anybody else to connect with. It’s made the process even harder than the idea of losing someone.
It is the outpour that you have there for you. On the one hand, it’s great to have that level of support on the other as you’re going through that process, answering the same set of questions and bringing things up and the emotional spectrum that you’re going through. There are probably some days, times, or moments that, “I don’t want to answer your question. I appreciate your support, but I don’t want to talk now.”
That is why I wanted you to be part of this conversation. We’re going to talk about who Will Ramey is. I have had tons of supervisors in my life. Even though Will said he was my supervisor for just a moment, he is up there with one of my best supervisors. Not just because I like him personally, but also his leadership style, what he does for people, and how he presents himself if you ever had an opportunity to work with him. If you are reading this and you ever work for Will, I want you to put some comments and tell me what you think. There may be somebody that didn’t gel because no one’s perfect, but overall, send me an email and tell me your experience of working for him. Will, what happened in 2001 when you began your career as a leader?
2001 was an interesting time. I was working at Target Corporation. I was in college, International Guard, and ROTC. It was a pickup point in my life. I started in 2001 with my first job supervising people, then in the Army, I was a team leader. I knew I was bound to get my commission and go on active duty. It was a very, as we know timeline in our nation’s history here, 2001. I was enlisted in the National Guard in ‘98. I got my commission in 2003. I learned how to lead people through the military leadership process of building you up, people first, mission, execution, this balance of taking care of your troops and your soldiers, but you still have to have a job to do. You have a mission to do, get close, and not too close.
My professional career journey has been interesting in the fact that I’ve never done a functional role in a team that I’ve led. What I mean by that is I was a platoon leader. It was my first job out of college. I got my commission. I was the platoon leader of 116 soldiers in a maintenance platoon. I’ve never been a mechanic, a heavy equipment operator, a wheel mechanic, and a generator mechanic, but I was in charge of leading those teams.
I was in charge of a team at Northcom doing instructional design. I’ve never done that. I left the Army active duty for a bit. I went to Target Corporation in their distribution channels. I was a team leader there. I’ve never done material handling, equipment operation, or anything like that. I’ve done jobs where I’ve led space control, operations teams, signals analysts, satellite communication, equipment operators, and IT specialists. I have never done those roles, but I’m the person responsible for leading.
I took to the side of the people first. Understand that everyone has a role to play, including the formal team leader, and bring people together. Throughout my career, I’ve held nothing but leadership positions. I was talking to a few people the other day about that and the uniqueness of that. I said, “If things ever go completely south, I don’t have a skilled trade to fall back on. I don’t know what I’m going to do if I’m not leading people. I better figure something out.”
It’s been an interesting journey. 2011 brought me to The Depot, Tobyhanna, the Department of Army Civilian. I’ve led production teams, production planning teams, and business office teams. I was the Garrison Manager, which is like a city manager for the army leading that team. In 2021, I graduated with my Doctorate degree from Drexel University. That’s where I started to pivot a bit and want to do something more with giving back to people and team members.
I started my own business, which is a leadership and team development business where I do leadership coaching, corporate workshops, and incorporate experiential learning activities. I’ve got my certificate in coaching. I’m working towards that credential with the International Coaching Federation, being able to coach people through problems, life, leadership, and career. Probably the three-minute version of 2001 to now is leader, education, and experiences, which brings me here to have a conversation with you.
Let’s circle back to something you said about not having the functional expertise of the people that you’re leading. I hear people often thinking that their way to the path to leadership is first being that functional role and then climbing the process. What would you say to someone to say that, “I don’t think I can be a leader if I don’t know that functional role?” How were you able to do that?
There’s goodness in both. I don’t think there’s one or another, but when I talk to people about, “I’ve never held that job. How am I going to lead people that do that job?” that’s simple. Ask them, learn from them, and understand the impact of the team. Have the skillsets to relate to people and the humility to say, “I’m not the functional expert, but you are. I understand where our team fits in. I can tie our team to a collective purpose. I’m going to empower you through the form of giving you the resources you need, removing the roadblocks, and giving you the autonomy and space to execute your role without being over your head or micromanaging.”
Leadership is a people business. The Army has been defined it as the ability to influence a group of people toward a common goal or objective. That definition does not mean positional authority and subject matter expertise. Being competent and having character is that blend and trade-off. You can lead a team if you’ve got the humility and ability to connect, learn, growth mindset, and embody a team empowerment mentality.
The word humility is not something people often hear connected to someone that’s a leader. They’re trying to put on this posture that they know everything. What have you found in that as you speak with people and try to help them embrace humility?
As a formal team leader, putting on the facade of being the authoritarian subject matter expert will cut fast. Typically what I’ve found and what I’ve read through research is that when people do that, when people are in leadership positions and they have to appear as a subject matter expert, it’s typically because they’re hiding something.
They’re hiding an ignorance of, “I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t want to be found out.” They’re in a position where they don’t want to be discovered as, “I’m supposed to have all the answers as a leader.” That’s simply not true. You think about the work that we do. If from the industrial age, we started with the leader on top of an organization, “I give you your tasks. I overwatch you execute, and we move,” that was leadership top-down and directive.
In the digital age of work, it is being able to have access to information, the speed with which we need to move. No single leader is going to be omnipotent and has all the skills, abilities, and awareness to be everywhere, all at once. It’s impossible. To recognize that as a leader, to be humble, to show humility and that balance of, “I’m self-assured enough to know what I don’t know, and I’m confident enough to know that I have a team of people around me to do it. Let’s bring that team together,” versus, “I don’t want people to discover what I don’t know. I’m going to hide behind false bravado, confidence, and expertise,” which creates a cycle of rework and lack of trust over time.
It’s difficult for leaders to embrace, especially emerging leaders of, “You don’t need to have all the answers. You need to be able to pull people around you who have those answers. Think about the team, the time that we spent together, I’ve never been in a business office or a marketer. I don’t know, but I know I’ve got a team of experts here. Let’s have conversations. What is it that you need? Where should we be going?”It's difficult for leaders, especially emerging leaders, to embrace that you don't need to have all the answers. You need to be able to pull people around you who have those answers. Click To Tweet
“I have an understanding of how this operates, but I don’t have the level of expertise that you have, nor will I, but as the formal team leader, I do have access to the resources that you may need. I have some decision-making authority. Let’s work together to give me the best information to make an informed decision. I give you the ownership and space you need to execute the task because we’re driving towards the same collective goal.”
You say that, and it sounds like, “That’s what I want in a supervisor,” then people get that. How do you see people sometimes responding? Is it serious, or are they leaning in and enjoying that? What becomes the tone that you receive?
It can be a mix. I’ve seen some people absolutely love that. Everything’s got a dichotomy. You’re the type of leader that empowers, and some people will run with that. If they make a decision or do something that’s outside of that left and right limit, as the formal leader, you’ve got the responsibility to seek to understand, find out why, and say, “I what might be overstepped, or maybe next time could consider bringing me in or running that by me first.”
You start to work with that, and that’s okay. The other side is I’ve seen people react, “I don’t want the space. You task me. I do task. I report back. You give me my next task.” I don’t want autonomy because I don’t want to own the decision-making. It’s not like this Elysium where everybody has the ability to lead and willingness to lead, desire to lead, and autonomy.
As a leader, you’ve got to know your people well enough to know, “I’m going to give you a little space. If you want to be checked in more, if you want a little bit more time and that task mastery, I can work with that. You’re good to go flying on your own. I need to make sure that you’re not too far out in the left field, getting off the task and off purpose on there.” As a formal leader, being able to pivot there, to me, always comes back to knowing your people. Spending time with your people, learning what motivates, what inspires, and what drives them will help you lead with humility and with a little bit more oversight where you need to and have that ebb and flow.As a leader, being able to pivot always comes back to knowing your people. Click To Tweet
I want you to be able to expound on the idea of grief in the areas where you’ve had to work with people. Grief is dealing with the loss of a loved one, but I know also people can grieve the expectation of a job interview that didn’t go well and now you see it start to impact their workload, a divorce, a house fire, and a death of a pet. As I ask these questions, I want you to be able to pull from your experiences in a broader scope than the death of a loved one because there are people reading this and they do have different things that they’re grieving. In the concept of you knowing your employees and now seeing someone that they’re going through a hardship, how does that impact your ability to be a leader and still accomplish the mission and work with them?
I’m thinking about grief in the first form of a loss of a loved one, starting there as a lead. I’ve experienced that in the military. I had my driver. Us officers or lieutenants there, we get a nice driver assigned to us. We’re not doing it on our own.
We’re going to pause right here for a minute. We over here talking about himself having a driver. Thank you for not allowing me to swallow my own tongue. I was a warrant officer. I may have been issued my vehicle, but I was driving myself. Go ahead with you and your driver.
My driver was a young specialist. He was about nineteen years old. At the time, I’m a first lieutenant, maybe 23 years old. On paper, we’re not that much older, but I had that much more responsibility. I remember I got a phone call. My specialist had a Red Cross message come through. We’re in for Irwin, California back home and it wasn’t too far from him, Southern California, I believe. He had a cousin that had been murdered. He literally just found out.
I got a call from staff duty saying, “Specialist so-and-so got their call. I want to inform you.” I picked up and drove right to the barracks. I found his door. At that moment, you are dealing with grief, the loss of a loved one. He was very close to his cousin. I remember knocking on his door. He came out. He had about half the sentences out and hugged me. I held him for what felt like a good solid 5 to 7 minutes.
He sobbed about that loss, that weight, and focus on what he was not going to be able to do anymore. We’re about 45, 50, or 60 days out from deploying, which is a stressful time period enough. I held him there. I wanted to lead with that example of holding. When I see it in the workplace with less intense examples, sometimes it’s health. I have a few women in my life at work who are going through cancer and they’re losing organs and limbs.
With that is identity. You look at those intensities of sadness. Higher-intensity sadness is grief and a little less intense sadness is pensiveness can be associated in the workplace with loss. To your point, it is having team members of mine who have lost out on an opportunity for promotion and have lost out on an opportunity to switch jobs. It is something in our minds as simple as, “I lost a bonus. I lost a performance rating.”
You still have a very similar spectrum of emotion around that because of this idea of, “I was expecting something. Now I don’t have it, what am I going to do?” The idea as a leader, what I learned through my coaching process is holding space for somebody. When we look at leadership, I talk about connecting with people. Some leaders default as an action for bias.
You default to this idea of doing, “I’m sorry. What can I do for you? Here’s our list of resources.” Box check, “I need you to have that briefing ready by tomorrow. Are you going to be in?” I moved to action. I’ve seen that play out. That’s the doing of work, person, and leadership. I did what I was trained to do, check on you, and a question asked. The harder conversations or the space holding come with the conversations around being and the feeling conversations, “How are you feeling today? What does it feel like to carry the weight of that loss with you? What does it mean to you to not get that promotion? What is important about how you’re going to move forward? What do you see your future as?”
You start as a leader to hold that space for that person, to ask those questions, and not lead them to action, to ask those open-ended questions, the what and the how to understand where they’re at. It takes me back to being able to hold that specialist and what he needed and then help move through that process with employees as a leader, coaching, holding space for someone and asking, “What can I do to help you?” and listening.
It may be nothing, “How are you feeling about this?” You don’t need to be a counselor or a psychologist. You need to be able to tap into your emotional intelligence. It is not only your self-awareness but your awareness of how somebody else is working, which is going to be different than you. There’s one Will Ramey, and I’m built uniquely.
Right, wrong, or indifferent, people aren’t going to react the same way as me. I box up and compartmentalize. I know me. I’m good at that. Other people aren’t. It’s asking the best questions and making time for them. I’ve had people who have grieved a loss of life, who have sat in my office. We have sat in silence for 40 minutes. I had an NCO one time. He got a message from home. A friend of his unfortunately committed suicide.
He would not talk that he didn’t want to go anywhere. I said, “We’ll stay here.” We stayed. I held that space for him until he was ready to pick up and move on. It was 45 minutes of silence before he was ready to talk about what he wanted to do and how he was feeling. Sometimes you hear put people first, but what does that mean to look like in action? It means, “I’m going to miss that meeting. I’m going to delegate to somebody else. I’m going to ask the hard questions and sit in that space with you and work with you until we’re through it.”
You said a lot there. I have to circle back to unpack a few things. One, for anyone that is not in the military, can you explain what a Red Cross message is?
When you get an emergency message from home, typically, the Red Cross is a shortcut to circumvent the system. It is typically a loss of a loved one from home. You can call the Red Cross and they will get through to the emergency lines of wherever your duty station is and get that person that message. Usually, what is associated with that is a leave. Once they get that message, their leadership chain can help support them with the resources they need or any emergency leave to get them out and back home to be with their family.
Two, the idea of asking someone how they’re feeling today. How did you come to that term versus how you are feeling overall?
When I’m leading people, it’s in that moment. That caveat to me is important because I could, “How are you feeling?” That’s a broad range. Sometimes broad range questions are good, but in these instances, “How are you feeling today? How are you feeling this morning? How are you feeling about coming to work?” You start putting it in terms because, for someone who’s going through a grieving process, there’s a lot going on. It could be that I feel fine now that I have my cup of coffee in my box so I feel good. “How are you feeling at this moment? How are you feeling at work?” By caveating it, what I found was it focuses on the answer. As a leader, it allows me to do a better or more accurate spot check of that person.
If I ask you a broad question and I get a broad response, I may not be tapping or picking up on, “I need to ask a follow-up question,” if I’m not listening for those cues. if I ask a broad question, “How’s it going today?” “Things are good.” “Two ships passing.” “Sounds good. How are you doing this morning?” “I’m doing good this morning.” “That’s good. Are things getting better for you?” If I’m picking up and watching my employee, it’s not a one-and-done situation when an employee is grieving. When they come in and drop that news on you, whether it be a loss of a loved one, a job opportunity, or whatever it may be, there’s some timeline associated with this.
We are not got to pick up and be okay tomorrow. I’m checking on you in the first initial moment and give you a little space if you need it. I’m checking on you the next day, and I’m checking on you after that because, over time, what I’m gauging is, “Are you getting the help you need? Are you getting better? Are you boxing things up and haven’t dealt with it yet? Have you unpacked something and now you’re heading towards a downward trend of you need some help and you’re not getting it?” Asking that cue, for me, helps me do some troubleshooting. It helps me do a more accurate spot check for somebody to find out moment to moment how you are starting to progress.
That is an excellent question. I’m glad that you were able to develop that. For me personally, when people would ask me how am I doing, I have been a high-functioning person my entire life. I was shocked by the grief fall and the mental incapacity that I was dealing with. When someone asked me how I was doing, I could not formulate an answer. I started thinking of how I was doing, and the Rolodex in my head was clicking. I was like, “That’s not the answer they wanted.” I’m doing something else. I would stare at people and walk away.
I literally told my lunch group crew because they wanted to know, “I can’t do big questions. I need you to ask me how I am doing today and then be prepared for what that answer is going to be if you ask me.” I commend you for developing that level of question. If I’m a supervisor and I hear you talking about that, I’m like, “That seems way too personal. I’m here to be their supervisor at work and I want them to do something. I don’t know if I want to get personal with people.” What would you think to give them for that mindset?
Now we’re getting into the philosophy of leadership. Leadership is not tied to a position. Supervision is being more of a manager. If one of your key responsibilities as a supervisor is to be responsible for people, you’ve got to be able to connect whether you like it or not. Something that I encourage all leaders to accept is that when you step into a leadership role, it’s not about me, but we. It’s not about you, but us. When things are about us as a team, you help shape those team dynamics and through your team, which is easy to do when things are going good, “High five. Great job. Your kid did awesome at the softball game last night. Phenomenal. Did you go to see the new John Wick movie? I can’t believe that. Do you see that part? That’s great.” When things are going well. That’s too easy.
The leadership piece, influence, caring, and connection count the most when that person has to take a knee and needs to catch their breath. The balance of relationships and results, as a leader, you’re responsible for performance, objectives, outcomes, and outputs. You’re also responsible for the team of people around you that do the work, perform the task, and job. Getting comfortable with that starts with understanding, “Here’s a process. Check on people. Have a startup meeting. Meet people where they’re at. Don’t bring them to your office. Be out and about. Go for a walk with your team members. See the work through their eyes.”
There are these small things that you can do as a leader to become more comfortable talking to people. You can start with talking about work, but then you need to take the next step out of that and expand that comfort zone of, “Let me talk about home.” In the military, especially as an officer, it was at arm’s length. I’ve abided by that genuine care and genuine connection, but not to where it would bias a decision I have to make.
It’s a tightrope walk. It truly is. For leaders that are struggling with that and with the idea of, “I don’t want to connect to my team. I don’t want to get too far into the weeds with how they’re doing and how our emotions are,” we’ve got to get you comfortable with that. We can start with a simple framework of looking at your daily routine, scheduling in touch points, and starting small. That’s the small action you can do at work as you go out and about. Ask somebody, “How is your day today? How’s your workday? Anything that you need? Do you have the resources you need?” You start there, and then you can branch out.
You mentioned something there about how did you come to not come to your office versus being out and about.
I love playing away games is what I call them. Think about the modern office in a workplace, formal leader, name on the door, nameplate, nameplate on the position, clearly displayed desk, chair, and computer, all of these barriers and these signs of positional hierarchy. How do you think someone coming to your office is going to feel?
One, I’ve got to leave my workspace. Go walk to your office. Nobody knows what I’m going there for. What are people thinking? Why are you calling me here? Now, I’m in your office and I’ve probably had to go through a layer or two of people to get to you, maybe a secretary, an admin or it’s offstage, off-production shop floor off of distribution shop floor area, or some other part of the business if it’s designed that way. Now I’m going to go literally through a gateway, your door, to your desk and what do some leaders do?
The person standing, you’re at your desk, your emails are pinging and you’re doing this half the time when you’re talking to somebody because we can’t live in that world without a bing going off every fifteen seconds for an email or a Blackberry message, iPhone, whatever it may be. There’s a way to get around that. First and foremost, go see somebody where they are. Where are your workers most comfortable in their workspace? Go to them. Play the away game, as I call it.
Now they see you out and about in their workspace. Not to discipline, act question, or micromanage, but to have a conversation. You’re starting as a leader. I’ve always aired to the side of, “It’s your responsibility to tailor your message. It’s your responsibility to pivot, It’s your responsibility to make that team member feel psychologically safe and comfortable the whole time.”It's your responsibility as a leader to tailor your message. It's your responsibility to pivot. It's your responsibility to make your team members feel psychologically safe and comfortable. Click To Tweet
You can start to do that by going to their workspace and asking permission, “Do you mind if I come around? Do you mind if I come in inside your desk here?” “That’s not a problem.” “What are you doing?” It shifts the power dynamic and it shifts it on purpose. It’s intentional. As a formal leader, you’ve got positional power associated with who you are and the position you hold on the hierarchy. Let that go. Shift that power dynamic to that person.
What happens when a team member comes to see you in your office? “Can I come in?” Why is it any different when a supervisor goes to see a team member in their workspace? “Do you mind if I come to your cube? Do you mind if I come by your desk?” There’s something to that shared space and power dynamic that’ll start to help build connection.
The word connection. That is a very good way going back to that supervisor that maybe doesn’t want to be too personal. That’s a good step to start doing that. I want to also go back to something you said about holding space and being a supervisor. You’re super busy. You have responsibilities to your employees and then to your upper management. How do you create that space? When you talked about that person that was silent, you knew they were devastated in saying like, “I’m going to choose you in this over whatever else is on my schedule.” How do I learn to start doing that for the people around me?
In my experience, it has never come up where I’ve missed a meeting, formation, or something where I’ve said, “I was dealing with a people issue.” I never ever have gotten in trouble for not being someplace when I’m dealing with a people issue. I’ve learned that, “I need to be here.” It’s okay. Excuse yourself, “Give me one second.” Call up whoever. You’re going to be there, “I need you to cover down for me. I’ve got something brewing right now, I’ve got to deal with it. That’s taken precedence.” “What is it?” “I have a people problem. I’m working through it.” “No problem. Let me know what I need.” “I’m not going to be able to make the meeting. I will fill you in later. I’m dealing with the personnel situation at this point in time. It’s going to take precedent.”
When you operate in a culture of people first, that is always okay, but until you do that, the first few times, I think the first time I’ve done it, I was probably sweating a little bit of, “I’m going to get my butt chewed for not being in here,” but I lead with I was taking care of my soldier. Here’s the issue. If you’ve got a strong leader above you or an understanding carry leader, 9 times out of 10. In my experience, it was 10 out of 10. They understand because people come first. Having the ability to say, “This is a priority. I have somebody in the meeting who can cover for me. I will get somebody in the meeting that can cover for me. I will explain later.” That came up a lot when I was deployed or at least an analogy for it, right?
When you’re taking fire or you’re deployed and you’re combat zone and you come up to initial contact as I say, which means small arms fire, you fire off that initial message to headquarters, coordinates situation. You lead them and feed them the information, and then I don’t have to worry about getting back to you no matter how many messages are coming over the net because I’ve already done my due diligence. I told you what was happening, “This is a priority. This is where we’re going.”
I take the same approach with people issues. It’s that important. People are that important to say, “Stop what I’m doing. Let me feed the big machine. I’ve got a people issue. I’m taking care of it. I’ve got something else covered down or I need you to cover down for me. I’ll follow back up when I can.” It’s the same approach with people as it was for me when I learned to do actions in a comp zone.
That is solid advice. Thank you. Create a bit of a timeline. You have a person that’s had this immediate situation, whether it was your driver or the person in your office and now some time has passed and you see that they look like they’re telling you they’re fine, they’re presenting fine, but you can see by the work product or their behavior, they are not. How as a supervisor and a leader, is that something you meant?
Those are difficult and that can be like a minefield to navigate because what I’ve seen is when you start to say, “Here are my observations.” Things that you get trained on when you talk to people are like the desk method or the situation behavior impact method. You can use these frameworks for performance counseling. It’s a little bit more caring and concerning when you know that or you suspect that it’s tied to a loss or grief or a significant emotional event in somebody’s life.
Being able and willing to have the conversation of open up in an offstage area or someplace where there’s no other viewership or in case you hit a trigger point with somebody that they feel if they start breaking down, they’re not embarrassed. This might be a situation where it is appropriate to do it in your office outside of your desk and with no barriers.
“How are things going for you lately? There has been some time since you’ve had that loss or you lost that loved one. I see that you’re doing okay when we check on conversation, how are you handling the situation at home?” You can transition to, “How are you managing your workload here? How do you feel about the work that you’re doing?”
If you start to ask those questions and you can gauge the conversation, “No, I feel fine. I feel good. I feel okay.” “Do you feel that your performance is the same as it was prior to? Here are some observations I’ve been making.” You can insert them in there. As the leader, what I’m trying to do at that moment is gauge how you see yourself, how I see you, and how big of a gap is there, “Here’s my awareness. Here’s your awareness. Your performance isn’t what it was.”
Asking those questions and listening to, “Do you think that your performance is what it was prior six months ago? Is there anything that you’re struggling with? Here’s what I see. You’re more frequently late with your suspense or the quality of work is not where it needed to be. I understand that grief takes time to get over. Is there anything I can do to support you? What steps do you think you can take to make a shift or make a change? What resources can I provide you to help support that step?” It’s trying to get them to become self-aware, see the gap that you’re seeing, and then the plan is always theirs. It has to be. I can make the plan for you, but then when it fails, you’re going to say, “That’s Will.”Understand that grief takes time to get over. Click To Tweet
I told them it wasn’t going to work. Guess what? It didn’t. “What steps can you take to get better? What’s one thing you can do tomorrow to try to close the gap?” Knowing as a supervisor, having the patients know that it’s going to take time. It’s depending on the impact and the loss of that loved one or the gravity of the situation, it may take a full year to get through, especially if it’s a loss of a loved one.
You’ve got all the traditions, holidays, and celebrations that you’ve got to get through it. Every holiday is a little reminder. It gets maybe a little bit better. If it’s a loss of a job opportunity, that may still be 3 or 4 months because they’re going to see that person who got the promotion and watch them go on. You got to know that it’s a timeline and being able to identify the gap, how they see themselves, and then lead them to what’s your plan, your ownership, “I’ll support that. I can help with that. I get you the resources for that,” then work them back to being that 100% performance that they were given before.
I want to share something about the timeline. There was a thought for me when I was first a widow that if I can make it through that first year that I’m going to be golden after that. That is a bunch of hub-a-bubba because on that second year you’ve gone through, everybody has a cheerleader with you. You made it through the first birthday or anniversary. The second year, you’re like, “They are dead.” The reality that I have 10, 6, 20, 30 years without them is a letdown.
You go, “They’re dead every day now.” This whole me going to this long run to get to the first year thinking I’ll be okay afterward, I have found, and from talking to other people, that’s when a lot of the work starts because everybody has done that stretch and now you have to live out the day to day of forever them being no longer here.
It seems in some places, it is almost forgotten that that’s what you’re still dealing with because you’ve been showing up to work every day. You’ve been doing all of your social requirements per se, and now it has an appearance that you are okay because you presented that way. That is a challenge. It took me three months to come back to work. I know Mark was probably thinking, “She may not come back.”
I was on the verge of it, but I was like, “What am I going to do if I don’t do that?” I felt like going back to work was the social draw and bringing me out. There were a lot of challenges with going back to check the box that people say things to people going through grief that I don’t think they grasp the impact of those works. I want to shift to Coaching Will not much as Supervisor Will. How do you deal with or have you had to deal with someone in depression or a real grief situation trying to make a plan, looking to you for help on how to change their path?
I’ve come across that, but interesting enough, as I go through and coach clients, it helps me self-evaluate and learn to self-coach. I’ve picked up indicators for myself with ideas. First and foremost and you hit it in your opening there, the coaching is not counseling. Typically what coaching does, the intent is to take you from where you are today to where you want to be in the future. By trade, that’s the timeline of where coaching falls in. What we focus on a lot is like you said, you intrigue me with the longevity because you may never come back to 100% of where you were before.
I do this thing called Wednesday Widowhood Tip and I talk about one single subject. It’s talking about the conversation that you are not the same. You have experienced a significant loss and everything that you view life through is different. You no longer have dinner the same way you used to. Sometimes you may not be as optimistic about life as you were before. Some things that you thought were important seemed very trivial when you compare them to, “This person is dead and you want me to do this PowerPoint brief.”
There are things that you wrestle with that longevity of trying to get things back in perspective in the world that you’re living. Now you may take the idea that life is more precious and I will embrace it more or become very pessimistic and wrestle with the idea of, “I’m showing up,” but everything is done in a vacuum, they are still dead it is work to be done because you are never the same because you were who you were with that person. Now that they’re not here, you’re trying to figure out who you are in their past.
That brings up of, “Where do you stand today?” As a supervisor, I may be thinking, “I want to get you back to where you were.” That’s not going to happen. As a coach, “What do you define as where you want to be? Where do you want to be 3 months, 6 months, or 1 year from now? What does your future self look and feel like? What do you envision?” As a coach, I can help people and I’ve helped people get through the, “Here’s what I want to be,” and they may start with something broad, “a fully functioning or a high performing or less self-doubt or,” less whatever it may be.
“Let’s niche that down. What does that look like for you? Describe that. What does that feel like for you? What’s one step today that you can take?” That first step may be to do something very simple to start building a new routine or change their behavior pattern. It’s always moving that person forward. It may be something as simple as, “I want to take time in the morning to be to practice mindfulness, to remember and have that moment of peace, and solitude and practice that reflection in the morning.”
“Great. How are you going to do that? What steps can you take? What’s your reality look like?” A coach will help you take that idea of where you want to be for your future self and your goal. What’s the reality for you? What opportunities have you tried or are willing to try? What’s your first step on the way ahead? They help you GROW or Goal, Reality, Opportunity, Wayforward. That’s a methodology that I use when I coach.
When you talk about people who are moving through that step of their goal might be to be 100%, “I want to be back to the high driving all-star, but today it might be, I need to get out of bed.” What’s the first step you can do? “I can practice myself gratitude in the morning. I can put my plan in place the night before, which gives me a reason to move forward.” Start with that because it’s a journey. That’s the difference I think between coaching versus being a leader and a supervisor at work. When you start to marry some of those tools in your toolbox, they can help you.
As you coach people, they feel like they’re still drowning. Will coach them fantastically and they are stuck. Are there some things that people need to do before they come to a coach? How does that work if I feel like I’m depressed? I don’t want a therapist, I need someone to coach and help me along. How would you respond to a statement like that?
Some of the cues and right out front with the ethics of a coach is knowing when to refer or suggest to the person seeing a therapist and asking those questions. Being explicit with my clients of, “We’re not going to dive into the past. If you’re trying to resolve issues of why you are the way you are or why you feel this way and it’s something that you want to go back in a timeline for,” that’s therapy. That’s what that type of counseling will do for you. If you are mired down, stuck and depressed in those feelings, I want to pick up and move forward, then what I’ll do as a coach is for that first session that we have maybe unpacking everything and deciding where to start.The first thing right out front with the ethics of a coach is to know when to refer or suggest to the person seeing a therapist. Click To Tweet
You’re asking questions of, “What’s most important for you? Why is it most important for you? What’s your priority? What feeling do you have that you want to get over? What is your prioritization?” As you’re asking those self-reflecting questions, you’re bringing up the client’s self-awareness. With coaching, the typical approach that we have is, “The answers are within you. I’m a guide to bringing them out. That’s what I’m here for.”
If you have this gnaw sensation of, “I am tired of feeling this way. I need help moving forward. Let me go work with a coach,” what I’ll help you do then is figure out what is it that you’re feeling, what you want to feel, what you want to be doing, and where we start. At the close of a session, you’ve got an action step to take. You’ve got a tangible, “If I’m doing my work well,” you’ve got an idea of, “This is where I started. This is what I came in with.”
We define upfront, “What is it that you want to get out of this session?” We work through the what and the how and leave you with that. What’s your commitment? What are you going to try to do going forward to get to that art and goal? And as we go through the session, we have that big end goal in mind, but you block it up in manageable steps along the way. That’s where coaching is beneficial in helping people move forward, identifying what it is that they have, and then knowing that the answers are within you. We’re going to talk about feeling, being, doing, and where you want to be
That’s critical because sometimes people want to kind of blend a coach into a therapist and a counselor into the same thing and they are not. That was a well-explanation of the differences between them. I know I’ve been asking you a lot of questions as far as some things when I first asked you to do this, were there some things you feel like we should talk about this, or are these some things that I feel like we should expound upon a little bit?
We hit on early in the conversation about what to do and how to work with somebody as they’re going through grief. It starts well before the action happens or the tragedy occurs, the loss of a loved one or a job. It starts with, as a leader, being able to set the conditions for your team to feel safe and comfortable approaching you.
Amy Edmondson is the pioneer researcher of the idea of psychological safety. As a leader, setting the conditions for your team to feel comfortable making mistakes and failing to take risks is the start of it. The second model that research can look to is this idea of self-care and modeling the way ahead within the work environment. Things like humility, we touched on. That is an essential trait to help promote people’s well-being, openness, vulnerability, and being humble in the fact that people are people. They’re not emotionless robots that you can hit go and they’re going to execute perfectly every day.
People come with wellness, emotional, spiritual, physical, all of these things. Promoting a culture where that’s not taboo to talk about, you can bring these issues up and as a leader, you can help work with people to prioritize self-care practices for their well-being, and emotional and physical health. The second part of that self-care practice is detachment and managing stress and burnout. If people talk about work-life balance, which is different for everybody, “You’re a hard charger.”
I can be a hard charger. I may work twelve hours a day and not bad an eye at it. Somebody else is saying, “I’m punching out. I’m getting out of here maybe.” It doesn’t matter. For me, if I enjoy what I’m doing with my business and things like that, I put my kids to bed. I’m working from 10:30 to 11:00 at night. Why? Because I like doing it. It’s not work to me.
It looks different for everybody, but encouraging that detachment of, “Do you need to step away? You need to take a walk. Do you need a day off? Do you need to recharge?” or whatever it may be. That might be like if you take ten minutes during the day to go for a walk because you’ve been doing some cognitive heavy tasks and you’re typing away. I need some vitamin D and fresh air to be at my best, then go do that. Does it matter if that person’s on break at that time? Help them out. Be a little flexible with it. Understand that a person may need an extra day coming off of a weekend if something else is going on. Being able to have those conversations around detachment from work.
Just because you’re a supervisor, a leader, and you are a workaholic and your balance is 80/20 work to relaxation doesn’t mean your team’s going to be and that’s okay. The third piece there is that encouraging self-compassion. Having time to practice positive speak, picking up on cues when one of your team members has that self-deprecating comment of, “What do they preemptively come out and say, ‘I know I’m horrible at this, but if you have any problems, come to me with it,’” or they’ll put themselves down publicly as a shield or as a guard. Helping team members overcome self-criticism and negative self-talk.
It’s okay to be competitive. It’s okay to be upset if something doesn’t go right. It’s not okay to stick with it, mind yourself down, pull yourself down, and stay mediocre, average, and excel. The well-being, wellness, the emotional aspects of working with people need to be part of the vernacular and conversation in the workplace. It starts with leaders being willing to have those conversations and set that tone.
Two questions I have for you. What gives you hope these days?
My kids give me hope. I say that because you look at how I was raised and I came from a middle-class family. My mom and dad were both high school graduates. My dad enlisted in the army. I graduated in ‘67. He and my mom got married right out of high school and he enlisted, served during the Vietnam War, got home, went to General Motors, and I worked 30 years in the fabrication and assembly plant there. It worked hard to give us the way of life that we have. You always want more and better for your kids and family. You put the hours and the work in. What gives me hope is I see my kids and I see them excelling and chasing their dreams of what makes them happy. Our oldest is a freshman in college and is majoring in Astrophysics.
She wants to go do Planetary Studies and Cosmology and discover what’s out in the universe. I said, “Go after it.” She’s doing awesome. Our son is golfing and he ran track for the first time. He did pole vault. All these things that, “Chase your dreams. He goes after it.” There’s no apprehension. There’s no pence of, “What if I don’t do well?” He goes and goes. Our youngest learning to play drums. She picked up and, “I want to play softball.” She came the other day. My wife and I laughed. I said, “You got to start watching the show Bones.” She wants to be a forensic anthropologist and a coroner. I’m like, “I got you.” She’s like, “Why? I love biology.” She wants to learn about human beings and help people.
When I say that gives me hope, I mean, I look at the optimism and their ability to pursue their dreams. That does give me hope that things are going to be A) Okay. We’ve got some smart kids here making good decisions that are going to be productive members of society along the way, and they are caring, compassionate, and willing to help people, and being members of a team is something that makes me happy. It brings me joy no matter what kind of day I’m having, hearing how they’re doing and what they’re up to.Look at the optimism and their ability to pursue their dreams. It gives you hope that things are going to be okay. Click To Tweet
I remember when you were taking them around to sports and having to get off of work and do stuff with them. They have grown up.
Youth coaching and sports are something everybody should have to experience at some point in time in their life.
Second question, if you could talk to younger Will, what age would he be and what advice would you give him?
When I was in ninth grade, I wanted to be a special agent in the FBI, join the Army, and kick down doors. That was my path. I didn’t go on that path. I got half of that. I joined the army. I did that, which was an awesome experience. I had a blast. It made me the person I am now. There’s a big wide world out there of possibility. I never considered being a professional academic. I didn’t know that was something you could do. I never considered being X, Y, and Z. I’ll be old and now I’m a solopreneur. I see people who are half my age pursuing that. I’d go back and tell younger Will to continue to dream big and chase dreams and take some risks. It’s okay to take risks. If I had to go back to like 13 or 14 year old, I’d tell them to hit the weights a little bit harder.
Why would you tell him that?
I was always a skinny kid. Somebody told me when I was growing up, I was in the National Guard. They said, “You are the skinniest fat kid I’ve ever seen.” I had these skinny little string beans. Somebody pulled on my arm one day and said, “Chef Boy wants a spaghetti back.”
How tall are you?
I’m 6’3. I was probably at the time 70 or 85. I’m 215. I learned to get underneath the weights and run a little bit. If I was a young younger, I’d say, “Eat some protein. Hit the weights a little bit more. You got to bulk up.” I had a warrant officer tell me one time and he was my lifting partner in Iraq that’s probably something throughout my life that I have gone back to, “Stay in balance. Physical, mental, spiritual wellbeing exercises carried with me.” I remember Chief David Hooker was a maintenance warrant officer. He was a bulldog. He would fill a doorway. He was probably about 5’8 or 5’9. He says, “If I was your height, I’d be 275. I’d be eating Mac trucks for lunch.” “Got it.”
You said you listened to some podcasts. You heard of different things. You talked about grief. Any final comments on the widowhood before we wrap this up?
There’s a proverb that I love. It’s, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” No matter what you’re going through, there are people around you that you can reach out to, whether you’re in a leadership position, whether you’re in a position needing help, reach out because you may be able to sprint for a short period of time on your own, but as you mentioned earlier, it’s a life-changing marathon. If you want to go far, pull your people and crew around you. Get some help. Get talk to people and you don’t have to go it alone. We all go further when we go together.
Thank you. This was great. I have enjoyed catching up with you. You are now officially a part of the widowhood.
I can’t thank you enough. It’s been an incredible conversation. It’s great catching up with you. I am a proud member of the Widowhood. Best of luck with all that you do.
Widowhood, what an engaging conversation. I am glad that Will was able to make time to speak with us from a leadership perspective as far as how to deal with someone grieving. It is important. We grieve at work or home. It’s not a quiet space where we go into. Our grief is with us everywhere that we go. I’m glad to be able to have Will share some tips with people that are supervisors, maybe things that you can share with your leadership if they’re having a hard time learning how to deal with you as you go through this journey.
I know that his conversation was helpful. Thank you for being here with us. I want you to know that I am sorry for who you have lost that has driven you to this conversation, but I am glad that you are part of our hood and I look forward to continually hearing from you. Send us an email. Let us know what you think. Suggest topics or maybe you want to share your journey with us. Here we are. We’re still here and we’re doing this together. Talk to you soon.
About Dr. William Ramey
Will Ramey is an award-winning leadership expert and decorated combat veteran who delivers high-energy, engaging presentations and workshops. In 2001 Will began his career leading a wide spectrum of teams, including military police, maintenance, warehousing & distribution, space control operations, manufacturing and production, and city management.
Will is the Founder of Shared Leadership, LLC (2022), a full-spectrum leadership and team development firm focused on strengthening team effectiveness using experiential learning and coaching. Will is co-authoring a book through Stanford University Press on shared leadership to shift the organization’s perspective on leadership from the industrial age into the digital age of work.
He is a certified Coach and certified LEGO® Serious Play® workshop facilitator. Will received his undergraduate degree from Youngstown State University (B.S.), a master’s degree from Webster University (M.B.A.), and a Doctorate from Drexel University (D.B.A.). His leadership awards include the U.S. Army Bronze Star and U.S. Army Commendation Medal, among others.