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  • Writer's picturePatrick Norris


  • Have you ever had a trusted friend betray you?

  • Have you ever had a dream goal that never came to fruition?

  • Have you ever felt that at any moment everything is going to come crashing down?

  • Have you ever had ALL of the above happen in close proximity of time?

If so, you have experienced grief! And grief reformats our brain functions from the collections of “loss stories” that spread across our lifetimes.

Grief is what we emotionally experience when we have a deep yearning for someone or something, fused with a heightened frustration, knowing it is unlikely or absolutely impossible to happen.

Grief doesn’t exist in isolation; grief loves to partner with anxiety. While grief focuses emotions to our past losses, chronic anxiety leverages grief memories for predicting the future. Grief and anxiety work hand in hand. It isn’t until we understand grief processing, and grief’s relationship to anxiety, will we be able to move our leadership healthfully into the future.

When we aggregate all our painful, grievous experiences compiled together, our brain builds a “grief profile”. This grief profile is a battery containing emotional energy to predict, map out and react to any future perceived threat. Sometimes these threats are merely imaginary, yet are tormenting none the less. Sometimes these threats are real, but the exaggerations create emotional intensity that is hard to throttle back. And in turn, grief intoxicates our leadership experiences with anxiety.

  • We become emotionally flooded when feedback is given.

  • We fantasize grandiose success to escape our fears of being average, or less than average.

  • We try to control teammates, or outcomes, exhausting and invalidating those we lead.

  • We avoid people we lead, avoiding bonds that build trust, to protect ourselves from rejection.

  • We sidestep holding others accountable or giving feedback, because we hold onto past stories of teammates feeling hurt by our presentation.

  • We shut down when the vision goals aren’t met, emotionally numbing for the next season.

  • We say we want innovations from our teammates, but we are fearful they will create more problems by their trial and error, so we dampen their energy.

  • We manage activities rather than developing people, because we assess that activities can be controlled, while people are painful.

We can’t experience past griefs without them energizing how we process and emote for the future, altering how we manage our vision goals, our teams and ultimately our organizations.

Grief includes, but is not limited to: the normal experiences of the loss of a loved one to death, divorce or distance. Grief is not just a feeling that we feel in our present moment after loss. Our brains build grief memory banks and predictive themes, networking with other parts of the brain to prevent future losses and suffering.

Grief is like file folders holding multiple documents. Each document within the folder represents individual losses. Each loss evolves into clusters of unresolved griefs, from childhood to today. Each file is produced from each of our relational injuries, parental neglect, abuses, natural disasters, accidents, disappointed dreams, and more.


As leaders we often “need” to achieve goals. There is a difference in “wanting” or “desiring” the goal to be achieved, and emotionally “needing” to achieve the goal. When we “need” the goal achievement for emotional regulation, this driver is energized from our grief profile. Our past griefs fuse with anxiety for the future. This neurochemical cocktail drives us to chase something in hopes of masking our identity, the emotional way we see and relate to Self. This is because our past losses, sorrows and sufferings have filled up our brain’s memory folders with grief files, then charged up our grief batteries, electrifying and driving us to secure our hope for survival and belonging.

Many leaders think they are just visionaries. They think they are big dreamers. They may assess themselves as simply being a big personality, with big energy and influence. Yet many leaders have never slowed down, or done the work of x-raying their brains for historical markers, and the grief/anxiety drivers that have made them who they are.

Leaders may not realize the dream goal isn’t about freedom to do what God has called them into, the simple joy of partnering and exploring opportunities with God. The dreams are often driven by griefs that have wounded their sense of Self. Success is their false hope for finally being able to feel good about themselves. Success then is