Leading In The Face Of Adversity And Sorrow

A national tragedy shines a light on a powerful leadership message on how we can do better going forward after enduring the worst.

Illustration created by my daughter Zafina in response to the terrorist attack on a Quebec City mosque.

As many of my long-time readers know, I publish new articles on leadership here on my blog every Tuesday. Now I had a piece written up that I was in the process of editing for publication this week, but a recent attack in my home province has lead me to shelve that piece so that I can share something a little more personal, and hopefully inspiring for how we can do better going forward.

This past Sunday night, news broke out that a native Quebecer – emboldened by the rise in right-wing, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim sentiments across North America and Europe – walked into a Quebec City mosque and began shooting at the men, women, and children praying inside, killing 6 people and wounding 19 others. It’s the worst act of terrorism to ever happen in my country.

Within a mere 24 hours, I went from feeling hopeful optimism at seeing people around the world rally together in solidarity against the bigotry, fear-mongering, and hate exemplified by Trump’s Muslim ban – to outright horror, anger, and sadness at how one of my fellow Quebecers could think it was acceptable to destroy the lives of innocent families simply because he has a problem with their faith.

As I write this, my emotions are still raw, my heart heavy and aching, and tears well up when I look at my daughters and imagine what kind of world will await them. Make no mistake, my province does have issues with racism, Islamophobia, and antisemitism. But I never imagined that this kind of hate would find expression in the form of a terrorist attack so close to home.

As I sat here trying to prepare my latest leadership piece for publication, I realized that I couldn’t simply act as though nothing happened because something did happen. Something that will now forever change who we are as Quebecers, and how we must go about seeing and understanding ourselves going forward.

Of course, whenever an event arises that shatters our perceptions of our community and country, there is an understandable need to try and make sense of it; to understand how such a horrific act of terrorism could happen where we live, and what good, if any, we can find in this darkness that’s fallen upon us.

And so, I wanted to address this tragedy from the point of leadership – of what do we do when faced with adversity and sorrow, not from failing to land a new client, but when tragedy strikes that affects those we lead at their very core.

To date, I’ve been genuinely impressed and touched by the actions of politicians at all levels here – from the mayor of Quebec City and our Quebec Premier, all the way to our Prime Minister and the leaders of our federal opposition parties. Each of them recognized the importance of not only expressing solidarity and inclusion in the face of terrorism and unbridled hatred towards Muslims, but of reaching out to the Muslim community to let them know you’re not alone and you’re one of us.

It’s a powerful message, not simply because it reasserts the values of Quebec and Canada – those of championing multiculturalism, a shared identity, and our collective and individual freedoms – but it also sends a much needed message to the Muslim community, a minority group that’s a regular victim of stigmatization and vilification. The message: you belong here and you matter.

The simplicity of this message reveals an important point that leaders everywhere need to recognize: we all need to feel a sense of belonging. As leaders, it’s our responsibility to address that need [Share on Twitter].

Indeed, if we are to tap into the best of those we lead – to benefit from their collective talents, creativity, insights, and experiences, we have to ensure that they feel invested in our vision because they see themselves in it. That’s what employee engagement is all about – it’s not simply about improving productivity, it’s about creating an environment where people feel a sense of value in what they do.

And this is something that’s especially important when your organization falls on difficult times – whether it’s due to economic hardships or due a tragedy that affects your employees or your community at large.

As leaders, it’s our job to help people see the way forward, especially when things seem so uncertain [Share on Twitter]. That’s why when such national tragedies occur, we look to our political leaders for guidance, for how we will as a people and as a nation choose to respond to these painful events, and how we choose to move forward.

Of course, being a leader is easy when things are going well because no one expects anything of us. The real test of our leadership is how do we help people find their way when things fall apart [Share on Twitter].

Granted, there are no easy answers to these situations, no quick fixes that can help us to right our ship and get back to the more mundane – and more safe – day-to-day activities. But there’s nothing wrong with that if we use such moments as an opportunity for collective reflection – not only to understand how did we get to this unfortunate place, but what does it mean in terms of what we stand for, and where do we go from here.

In many ways, this is becoming the key function of today’s leadership. That’s it not simply about ensuring work gets done or how well we allocate resources towards a long-term initiative or how much market share we accrue. Rather, leadership is about providing context; for why this matters and why we need to care [Share on Twitter].

In some ways, I suppose that’s what I’m trying to do with this piece – to not only try and make sense of this horrific tragedy, but why all of us should care and why it matters. That in many ways, how we choose to respond to such acts of violence speaks more to who we are as a people than anything we push forth in public statements and personal decrees.

There’s no question that my heart and spirit are cracked, but I remain unbroken. And that’s because I refuse to allow this terrorist attack on my home province, on my community, sur mes compatriots, to silence my voice or darken my heart where I see the world through the filter of us vs. them.

Indeed, it’s my genuine hope that this tragedy will encourage my fellow Quebecers to address our at-times open bigotry towards Muslims and recognize the Muslim community is a vibrant part of our society, and that we are far greater than the sum of our individual parts.

At the very least, I’m hoping that writing this piece will help start the healing process and lighten just a little bit the heavy load that now rests in my heart.

But perhaps most importantly, I hope all of you will leave this piece with a deeper understanding of the emotional responsibility we take on in our role as leaders and that we treat that responsibility with the deference and humility that it’s due.

In so doing, perhaps we might find the light to help guide others through all this darkness that seems to pervade our ever shrinking world.


  • Ibrahima Barry
  • Mamadou Tanou Barry
  • Khaled Belkacemi
  • Abdelkrim Hassane
  • Azzedine Soufiane
  • Boubaker Thabti

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Tanveer Naseer is an award-winning and internationally-acclaimed leadership writer and keynote speaker. He is also the Principal and Founder of Tanveer Naseer Leadership, a leadership coaching firm that works with executives and managers to help them develop practical leadership and team-building competencies to guide organizational growth and development. Tanveer’s writings and insights on leadership and workplace interactions have been featured in a number of prominent media and organization publications, including Forbes, Fast Company, Inc Magazine, Canada’s national newspaper “The Globe and Mail”, The Economist Executive Education Navigator, and the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center.

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