Leadership Spotlight

Leading Through Tragedy

Stock image of a manager talking to a co-worker in her office.

Writing about healing from a tragedy involving the workplace and a colleague never was an article I expected to attempt―too difficult, too emotional, too dark. This message is about healing. How do we in law enforcement begin to heal from horrible and, often, life-changing experiences? How do we move forward, carry on the mission, and find peace in the wake of a devastating event? True leadership is the key.

How do leaders help heal the wounds of those they lead? I will not pretend to have the answer to that important question. However, I do know how a leader can make a person feel after a tragedy. As with all critical incidents in our profession, we witness both true leadership and the lack of it at the same time. True leadership is where the healing begins―with that elusive personal power only earned by leaders through the trust, respect, and loyalty of those they lead.

The leader who is compassionate, decisive, and courageous―even when that same leader and human being also is deeply hurt―is a leader of tremendous strength and character. Leaders must connect with their troops in bad times. Such a connection is evident by making tough decisions others will not make, genuinely caring, openly and honestly communicating the hard truths, or simply giving a hug at just the right time. All these actions set the stage for healing and making a squad, unit, and department whole again.

A leader who stands side by side with the troops, has their backs, and shows real emotion and guts during a tragedy and in its aftermath directly affects healing and resilience. Those affected will believe they can indeed persevere, move forward, and, ultimately, find their new normal because they were supported and inspired to grow even during the worst of times.

A tragic event―and there are far too many in law enforcement―will leave an indelible mark on those close to it.  In reality, memories of events we would rather forget fade, yet they never disappear no matter how hard we try to compartmentalize or make them go away. The rare leader who makes us just feel right again will always be remembered as the beacon who shined through those dark days. This article is dedicated to your beacons…and mine.  

Supervisory Special Agent Suzanna Hasnay, an adjunct faculty member for the University of Virginia and former instructor at the FBI Academy, prepared this Leadership Spotlight.