In Order to Repair and Prevent Organizational Trauma, Leaders Must Develop Trauma Expertise, and Recognize Personal Contributions to Organizational Problems

Grant H Brenner
12 min readDec 4, 2023

Mirror Mirror On The Wall, Who’s The Wisest Leader of Them All?

Photo by August de Richelieu/Pexels

This post starts with an overview of organizational dynamics, moves on to define trauma and discuss how it plays out in organizations, and then looks at how leaders can either add to or help resolve organizational trauma and bolster resilience, to stay on mission to success with health and sustainability based in mutual respect, constructive authority and humanistic values.

Recently, I’ve been reading a book on leadership and organizational work by Edward R. Shapiro called Finding a Place to Stand: Developing Self-Reflective Institutions, Leaders and Citizens. Shapiro comes from the rich and deep tradition of “Group Relations Theory” — a school in which I’ve also trained. In writing about leadership, he shares a trenchant joke, embellished with my own reflective commentary:

A new CEO is taking over and asks the last one for advice. The outgoing CEO provides three envelopes, and says to open them in order as crises arise. We wonder what the old CEO is getting at, but taking it at face value, we don’t act on this moment of curiosity.

In any event, sure enough the first crisis comes up. The new CEO opens the first envelope, which says, “Blame your predecessor.” And so she does, and so it works.

The second crisis arises some months later — the second envelope is opened, and it says, “Blame the environment.” And so she does, and this also works. We are left curious but not yet asking “What is going on here?”

The third crisis inevitably arises — after all no effort has been made to pause and wonder, to dig deeper. She opens the third envelope, receiving the final advice: Make three envelopes!

We are left to understand two things: First, that she is on her way out, in short order. She has failed to “bear hug” the organization in her new role. Second, and crucially, she ignored many chances to actually lean in and understand her work — taking the easy way out…

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Grant H Brenner

Psychiatrist, Psychoanalyst, Entrepreneur, Writer, Speaker, Disaster Responder, Advocate, Photographer