Leading Through Shock

leading through shock


Sally Grisedale

The Shock of Success

After eight years, one of my clients, who is an entrepreneur surpassed all her business goals and scaled her organization. She has a team doing the work she used to do, and a subject matter expert to lead a new premium revenue stream.

With the massive business success she created, she’s experiencing shock at how her professional growth has impacted her personal growth. She finds herself at a new crossroads, and, despite the wins, she is paralyzed by fear.

  • Fear that customers will stop signing up if she’s not working directly with them.
  • Fear that the SME will leave with her intellectual property (IP) and join a competitor.
  • Fear that her role in running the company is no longer important.
  • Fear that what she truly wants isn’t the business alone, but something more.
  • Fear that now she could be a mother and a CEO.

In a state of profound disorientation and uncertainty, the shock of her success has taken a toll on her nervous system.

Her body feels shut down and frozen in place. The uncertainty about what she should do next takes her breath away. She speaks rapidly, whilst wondering where the confident, self-assured, divine feminine, a business leader is hiding inside her.

Biologically, her system is seeking homeostasis. It is aching for the stability that she got from building her company, but, faced with new challenges, she has to make a choice:

  • Go back to what she’s used to
  • Go forward to something new

Go back to what she used to do?

She loved working directly with customers, but if she continues to do this she could disempower the team she trained to grow her brand. Her fixation on what worked in the past will become an inaccurate understanding of the matrix she is living in now.

Go forward to something new?

What is an accurate understanding of what’s possible now? Whilst she remains in shock, she is going to remain isolated and lonely. The future will not open itself to her until she can come out of fear and begin to explore an alternative narrative for what her future could hold.

Opening Up – Seeing the Horizon Again

Science tells us that being in a healthy relationship with another person (or pet IMHO) calms the nervous system, which aids in alleviating feelings of isolation and fear and helps us be in the present moment. Yoga, exercise, good nutrition, sleep, faith, and meditation can be helpful here, too.

Relationships can interrupt shock signals and create new pathways in the brain that shake you free from the hypnotic frenzy of fear.

Part of the coaching opportunity is to stay connected with people as they figure out what’s next for them. It’s an intimate human connection, akin to holding the back of a bicycle seat for someone whilst they learn to pedal and steer away safely on their own.

Partnership – Changing the Narrative

The story you tell yourself is the context you are living in. During the pandemic, you experienced the most destructive stories. The stories are frightening, even surreal at times. It would be easy in this liminal state to become disoriented. It’s a good time to look at the collective stories and consider changing your narrative. Updating your own mythology will save you from trouble later on.

Everyone I work with absorbed the shock of the pandemic and experienced the symptoms of shock my client went through: feeling frozen, shortness of breath, speaking quickly. But they kept going. They kept making hard, often impossible decisions: how to lay off a team next Wednesday morning at 10:00 a.m., how to close a company down and liquidate its assets, how to hide the pain of being unable to visit a loved one, how to homeschool children whilst holding down a job. They never stopped to deal with the shock, so what helped them stay grounded?

They stayed grounded by remaining connected to others, maintaining and growing levels of self-care (meditation, breath work, exercise, good nutrition, sleep, and faith), and partnering with a coach with whom they can create a space to return to themself.

Coaching is not a replacement for therapy or a hug from a loved one, but it will support you through a shock triggered by success or trauma. Coaching my client through her shock at her own success allowed her to:

  • Find her voice again
  • Remember what she wants to say
  • Identify who she needs to say it to
  • Recall the bigger picture of her entire life
  • Express new possibilities for the short and medium term for herself and her business
  • Connect her to a sense of agency and feeling empowered again

Coaching helps you explore what’s truly important. It lets you create a new narrative for how you will lead your life, what you want to do, who you really want to be, and to change your experience from fear to love again.

Photo by Rahul Viswanath for Unsplash

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Leading by Design is a blog for creative leaders working in tech. It’s not a “Why You Should Use AI in Design Thinking” or “How to Hire and Retain Product Design Teams with Impact” type of blog. There are enough of those.

I write about the challenges you can’t safely discuss as creative leaders working in tech. The stories come directly from my experience leading teams at Apple, Meta, Yahoo!, and some start-ups and from the executive design leaders I coach today.

I have written about the stressful magpie boss, hateful cross-functional peers, creative burnout, the shame of job loss and survivor guilt, and the fear of becoming irrelevant in the marketplace.

I publish once a week and offer strategies to reframe your challenge so you can return to being the creative leader your team loves you to be.

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