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Submitted by MichaelM on


Can we all share some effective practices around personal tragedies among our directs? What have you done in the past that was helpful to the person? How does the effective manager respond in these situations?

This question was inspired by a recent experience at work. I am a teacher and aspiring school leader. It came as a great shock to find out that one of my students had lost his home to a fire over the weekend. Fortunately, everyone is safe and healthy. Upon talking to the student, I undertook a few key actions:
1. Obtained updated … albeit temporary … contact information
2. Sent a letter home to the student’s parents including my condolences and my home/cell phone numbers
3. Tapped my network and arranged for the student to receive replacement school and gym uniforms
4. Spoke to the student’s parents and … after receiving their OK … arranged for a donation drive
5. Provided lots of tissues and a shoulder to cry on

This list is nowhere near exhaustive and I understand the teacher-student relationship is not quite the same as that of manager-direct. That said, I am going to be a school leader someday and I know that such situations will arise: deaths in the family, extended illnesses, natural disasters. I can never be “ready” for any of these tragedies, but I will want my students, teachers, and others to know that I will do all I can for them.

I think it was in the cast on late stage coaching that Mark and Mike recommended taking notes on how we handle these rare situations (i.e. the Christmas rule) so that we can do our best when they confront us. Any suggestions? Thoughts? Recommendations?

jhack's picture
juliahhavener's picture
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Jhack's link is the one I would have given you.

Essentially: We are all people. Lives happen. Be open to those around you and support them in the ways you are able. It will come back to you one way or another.

My current group has been an exercise in being there for people in personal (and professional) crisis. It's a fine balance, but it sounds like you've found it in this case.

terrih's picture

I've been on the other side--a direct having a personal tragedy--and I thought my manager handled it well at the time, maybe not PERFECTLY, but here are some things he did:

Set me up an appointment with someone he knew personally who's a professional counselor specializing in what I was going through

Nominated me for assistance from the employee benevolence fund (since there were financial impacts)

Did some minor repairs at my house so I wouldn't have to spend money hiring someone (only works if you're handy, of course)

Gave me rides to & from work when needed

He didn't do one-on-ones, but occasionally he would ask me privately how things were coming along

Took me to lunch at times (and when I thanked him, would say, "No, thank YOU--I hate eating alone")

And btw, knowing some personal stuff about him from conversations and all was what made me feel I could discuss the problem with him in the first place.

Some things I thought weren't such a hot idea:

He offered to loan me money. (I took it once or twice but made dang sure to pay it back quick because I didn't like owing my boss money... I wouldn't recommend lending money. It alters the relationship, and would alter it even more if they didn't pay it back)

He did NOT suggest the EAP, but fortunately I just called them myself

If I think of some more stuff I'll post it.


juliahhavener's picture
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I do think that having the personal relationship with my directs is what opened the conduit to my being able to effectively help them. Having the ability to tell someone that nothing they could say would shock me, and I've most likely been in those shoes makes a big difference.

Having the ability to identify with where they are, give them resources, information, support, and a shoulder to cry on when needed is awesome. Being able to leverage my company's resources on their behalf is true icing on the cake.

I wish that my managers had been able to do that much for me when I was in that place. Providing that support to my directs is something I feel very strongly about - probably in part because some periods of my life I felt like I lived in a soap opera and if just one person I worked with/for had said to me that they truly understood, many things might have been a bit different.

Mark's picture
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For the record, this topic is the subject of a two part cast coming up in the next month or two, I think.