When I was Commanding Officer of the ARTD Leadership School (ASLS) I sat in many times on the presentation about grief. One of the reasons behind setting up ASLS was to change the culture of Army training and to understand the motivations and anxieties of modern 21st Century Army recruits. This presentation was complemented by one that dealt with suicide and self harm, which was pretty graphic. It also introduced the grief cycle. This was developed from the work of Kubler-Ross after she published her book On Death and Dying in 1969. In July 2020 the BBC summarised her work and influence and that article is here.
This book which has come in for academic criticism is widely quoted as developing a system of 5 stages of grief. This model, and models are only ways in which to simplify and then understand the real world, is usually presented as 5 stages. Denial, Anger, Depression, Bargaining and Acceptance. Notwithstanding the criticism many people find this a useful guide to understanding the process of grieving. I certainly found it useful when bereaved and have suggested to others as a way of understanding the process they are going through. Loss is a natural part of life and working life too and the modern leader has to deal with colleagues who have lost a loved one. The Kubler-Ross model was adapted to wider circumstances of loss and this was another facet of the presentation that I mentioned at the beginning. Failure in training happens as it does elsewhere in life, notably the Kubler-Ross model was applied to athletes that had suffered career ending injuries and trainers could use the adapted grief cycle to understand how to advise and counsel people who had failed at something major in the organization.
In my view there is also a possible correllation to the stages of this with the key elements of Values Based Leadership. I'll talk about that a bit more in another post.
Grief and Change Models
You can use either of these models to identify where you and colleagues stand in relation to change or to get your communications right at the appropriate stage. Any change causes anxiety amongst most colleagues whether they like admit it or not. As a leader consider how you will communicate the change. How much has already got into the public domain? What has the rumor mill been saying? The Wikipedia article on Kubler-Ross can be found here.
Not everyone has the same outlook
I was present at a briefing to all staff in 2009 about the closure of the barracks where we all worked. Whilst there was clearly shock and some anger the mood was lightened at question time when a female employee got up and stated that she had arrived in 1971 and all her friends had advised her against the job as the rumor was that the barracks was due to close in 1972, True to form it took nearly another 10 years before the place was emptied and handed over.
To finish with Kubler-Ross it is worth noting that there is a Foundation in her name and that this answers some of the criticism that has been levelled at the original model. On a practical level both versions of the model are useful, once the context of their development is understood, and they can be used by leaders to inform themselves of dealing with grief amongst colleagues in all of its forms.