6 principles of trauma-informed leadership

I was told at my very first job in hospitality to “leave it at the door.” Don’t bring any personal issues to work and always be “on,” presenting your best self. 

We’ve come a long way since then, and we now know this is not only unsupportive to our team members, it’s not great for business. Many, if not most, of our team members and guests have histories of trauma, and the environment and interpersonal interactions can exacerbate the manifestations of trauma.

Avoiding assumptions is one of the hallmarks of a trauma-informed leader. We acknowledge that each of us will perceive experiences differently, through the lenses of our backgrounds and previous life experiences. We reframe our assumption from “what’s wrong with them?” to “what might they have experienced that is creating this response?” to allow us to shift gears in the moment and not react in a way that causes more harm.

A trauma-informed company culture invokes a set of principles that leaders can use to shape the way that people interact more effectively within the organization. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a trauma-informed approach is based around six principles. Here’s how to set the tone and support your workforce in practices that are rooted first in empathy, vulnerability and compassion, not process and procedure:

  1. Safety: We ensure that throughout the organization, people feel physically and psychologically safe. We don’t ask team members to hide or feel shame for who they are or how they respond to their experiences.
  2. Trustworthiness and transparency: We make and communicate decisions with transparency and with the goal of building and maintaining trust.
  3. Peer support: We connect individuals with shared experiences, integrate them into the organization and view them as integral to service delivery.
  4. Collaboration and mutuality: We level power differences between guests and employees, as well as between employees and leaders, to support shared decision-making.
  5. Empowerment and choice: We recognize, build on and validate employees’ strengths. This includes a belief in resilience and the ability to heal from trauma. 
  6. Cultural, historical and gender issues: We recognize and address biases, stereotypes and historical trauma.

The hospitality heart is still essential, and guest service is still fundamental to what we do. However, today’s team members expect that they will be respected for who they are and they don’t want to hide their true selves. Nor should they have to.

Jennifer Belk White is the human resources director for Lumina Foods.