How Mindful Leaders Can Heal Trauma

In this video, Jenée Johnson explains how healing trauma and mindfulness go hand in hand.

San Francisco is in the midst of probably the worst housing crisis in the country, and the San Francisco Department of Public Health is tasked with stewarding the health of the city and county’s population, and inside of that we have recognized that the way we function is often trauma-inducing not only to the communities that we serve. but to the workforce.

That we are often bureaucratic, siloed, that people are demoralized, that we are not trustworthy, and that it can be a very mean place to work. And because of that, we have gone on a mission to move from being trauma-inducing to a trauma-informed, and ultimately a healing organization, and organization that is trustworthy and has at its core compassion and empathy, and is thoughtful about the way we deliver services. 

We ask the key question—not, “What is wrong with you?” but, “What has happened?”

We ask the key question—not, “What is wrong with you?” but, “What has happened?” And when you ask what has happened it invites compassion, it invites looking at strengths in the face of adversity.

I was an embedded trauma trainer inside a maternal adolescent health ward, and as I was delivering the trauma training I noticed that the workforce, although interested in trauma principles, did not seem like it had the strength and the bandwidth to really hold the important work that was ahead of us. And it occurred to me that what we needed to do was become a mindful organization, in order to become a trauma-informed organization. That trauma-informed and healing needed to exist inside of a nest of mindfulness.

I went to the trauma leader and I said I know of an organization that has curated mindfulness in the workforce, the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute. I went to Search Inside Yourself, and thus began the journey of me becoming a trained teacher to deliver the program, and then I landed the role of the program innovation leader in mindfulness, trauma, and racial equity.

Mindfulness, trauma, and racial equity are knit together, because part of what makes our organization trauma-inducing is we can be a very demoralizing place to work, and the people who have the worst health outcomes across every data point that we measure are people of colour. And it’s telling us a story of how we have yet to truly, honestly, grapple with racial equity, and part of the challenge of grappling with racial equity is we need people to be strong in their core, we need people to grapple with white fragility, which often derails the conversation.

To move the conversation forward, we all need to be able to be resilient, and mindfulness is the pathway.