10 Ways Grief Impacted my Leadership style

Written by: Lianne Castelino

Published: Oct 19, 2010

by Christine Macleod

This is a guest post by Christine McLeod CHRP. Christine is the founder of Impact People Practices an HR & Business consulting firm that will turn everything you think about people on its
head. Be prepared for innovation, new tools and a fresh approach to HR,
training, branding, engagement & authentic relationships with the people
around you. It’s HR of the Future.

I should have a 5 1/2 year old starting Kindergarden this September.

I have two incredible daughters, one 4 and one 2 next month. but if on March

26th 2005 our first born  hadn’t died, I would have a daughter starting

school this fall, in addition to my two younger ones being in pre-school.

How does this all relate to me as a leader? I’ll connect the dots in a minute

for you- but first I’ll tell you about my journey.

In March of 2005 after a picture perfect pregnancy and routine delivery, our

daughter Caitlin Anne was born. At that moment, holding my daughter, I felt as

though everything in my life leading up to this moment was preparing me for

this the feeling of purpose, connection and readiness to welcome this little

person and guide her through life. Unfortunately what was the happiest day my

life a few hours later quickly became the worst of my life. Caitlin’s heart rate

suddenly plummeted and medical staff fought to figure out how a 7.5 lb healthy

baby was all of a sudden crashing every 20 minutes or so without any apparent

flags or clues as to what was causing it all to happen.

Long and terrible story short, Caitlin passed away at BC Children’s early the

next morning and so began a journey of the likes I could never have prepared

myself for. The best and worst day of my life all in one.  Yet even in a haze of

grief I knew something. I knew that I was a different person from the person who

went into Lion’s Gate on the 25th to deliver a baby. Becoming a mother just

heightened and deepened everything I felt passionately about. Losing my daughter

took it to another level.

I took four months off after Caitlin died and in those early days, JP and I

spent time with family and loved ones and counsellors and doctors… but the time

that was most significant was the time we spend on our own. We took off to

Tofino and spent time with the wild west coast of BC and just paused.

We were not escaping, we were certainly not trying to forget, we weren’t angry,

we were just being and away from everything seemed to just feel like

the best place to just be .

Right from the start we talked about Caitlin and what happened to us and it

seemed just the natural thing to do not to bury the grief but to face it- in

all its wild rollercoaster of emotions that accompanied it. People had no idea

how to approach us, how to make it OK for us, but most wanted somehow

to just connect.And in their own ways, people found incredible ways to

connect; Those tiny gestures were the ones that helped us in those first weeks:

Colleagues getting together and sending us a little glass angel with a

thoughtful letter; food in our fridge when we got home with loving notes from

friends. Cards and emails and handmade bracelets and charms and voicemails. It

was incredible.

In the first weeks home, we gravitated to those who had reached out to us,

not because we needed to lean on them necessarily, but because we felt

comfortable to just be ourselves. And to talk. I realize now that my STORY was

important to me to tell… because it wasn’t just my story, it was my daughter’s

as well.  Listening was one of the greatest gifts we got from those

around us.

The maze of tests and research that went on that spring and summer to try to

find out what had happened so catastrophically to Caitlin came up empty and

finally the conclusion was that she had suffered from an untraceable metabolic

disorder that didn’t allow her to thrive outside of the connection to MY


The journey we have been on since 2005 has been significant in many ways, but

as I reflect 5 1/2 years later, some things have really landed with me.

I realize who I am as a leader, an entrepreneur and business woman (not to

mention wife, mum, friend and other hats I wear but will leave for other posts)

is the sum of all my life experiences to date, but most significant in those has

been the birth and death of my daughter Caitlin so here are my beliefs about how

grief has made me a better leader

1) I pause frequently:It’s about mindfulness and stepping outside my busy life to notice what I notice;

to pause and reflect on the present… to help confirm or reframe what the future

looks like

2) I listen to my what’s important in life

internal barometer: Losing Caitlin has left me with an invisible but

incredibly powerful barometer inside me for what’ truly important in

life.  That barometer guides decisions at all levels, personal and business

3)I have an appreciation for other story: We all have a

story. We have several stories. Stories and experiences have the power to

connect total strangers, and deepen ties between the best of friends. I am

fascinated by the dots that get connected when you take the time to hear the


4) I am OK with some things not having an answer and

certainly OK with me as a leader not always having the answer. Sometimes it’s

let’s figure it out together and other times it’s I just don’t know the next

step: let’s talk about our options

5) I am more transparent: Prior to 2005, I was quite careful

about the crossover between Christine the Leader and Christine the person and

that has all but disapeared. Authentic leadership, leadership where people can

connect to the humanity inside you, is what builds the strongest ties. I feel

much less pressure to be anything else but me at all times.

6) I am way more comfortable with white elephants: Perhaps

because I have experienced it firsthand, I tend to not shy away from

conversations I would never have started 5 years ago even if it’s just saying

something like I’m so sorry about, we make all sorts of assumptions about how

people will feel about us asking questions or noticing something about us, but

my experience has been the opposite is true. People appreciate you noticing

and if they REALLY don’t want to talk about it, easy enough to steer the

conversation away.

7) The best laid plans can go terribly wrong: I know where

I am headed, but am much more comfortable deviating from the plan if

circumstance demands it

My Time is the most valuable thing I can give someone
: Time is not a

quantity thing. I’s a quality thing. How you SHOW UP for someone, for

something, can be incredibly significant even in a moment. Time I now see as a

gift- something I can give to someone else, and something I am conscious of more

living in the present. It’s about mindfulness.

9) No regrets: Whenever I am faced with a big decision, I

think through the outcomes; if I can live with the worst outcome knowing there

is a way to move forward from there, it’s usually a big filter for me. I don’t

want to look back and not have gone for it. 

10) I think even bigger than before: Something in me today

believes in the possibility of things that I never would have had the

courage to think about. I have experienced firsthand the tremendous power and

brilliance of people connected with a purpose and I believe people can

accomplish incredible things together

And so here I am, Sept 2010 reflecting on some of the countless lessons my

daughter Caitlin, even in her short time with us taught me about myself. I know

the lessons will continue to reveal themselves moving forward. As my doctor

Karen said in a card to us that spring of 2005. try not to be sad she is gone,

but happy she was here. It’s hard not to be sad, but I have to say it is EASY to

be grateful for the incredible lessons I have experienced.

PS- for those who have joined the Impact People

Practices Facebook page, you know that $1 per fan is going to BC Children’s

Hospital Foundation to the Caitlin Anne Memorial fund… just another way that I

know we are honoring someone who has proved that IMPACT is not correlational to

size or time spent on the planet.

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