This week I spoke at an industry conference that was discussing what to do to keep workers safe from injuries and fatalities, and if they tragically did happen, how to help people and organisations through the ordeal. 

Dennis Charney, psychiatrist and academic researcher, has examined people’s recovery from trauma (including war) and found 10 factors repeatedly influence resilience. One of these was having a good leader, not only to lead, but as a resilient role model during tough times.

When an organisation is experiencing a crisis, good leaders listen and empathise. They communicate clearly and choose their words carefully. They foster trust, which begins well before the incident. It is also shown every day before a crisis, so they have enough trust when they need to call upon it. With their words and actions, they help make people feel safe. 

We usually resort to leaders during wartime to find examples of this style of leadership. But Weary Dunlop, whose leadership style gave hope to the sick and eased the anguish of the dying, comes first to mind. He was, in the words of one of his men, “a lighthouse of sanity in a universe of madness and suffering”. His leadership is thought to be one of the reasons why Australian survival rates were the highest during the war. 

I have worked with many organisations in their darkest times. I have also seen resilient leadership and the soft surface it creates for people as they fall, and to lean upon as they help themselves up. 

Tarnya Davis is a clinical and forensic psychologist and principal of NewPsych Psychologists.