Cultivating Safe Leadership: Beyond Psychological Safety with Dr. Lee Cordell


In this episode, I’m joined by Lee Cordell, a pioneer in trauma-informed leadership and the founder of the Institute for Trauma and Psychological Safety. We discuss how recognizing and addressing trauma can fundamentally transform leadership styles, promoting environments of trust, psychological safety, and true connectivity within organizations. Lee shares her personal journey from a nursing career to establishing her institute, driven by the desire to create safer spaces and healthier relationships in professional settings.

Dr. Lee Cordell

Dr. Lee started the Institute for Trauma and Psychological Safety after retiring from her decade-long career as an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner and graduate-level professor.

She is devoted to helping humans understand their past so they can create happier, healthier futures. She integrates her personal stories of childhood abuse, depression and anxiety with her 20 years of professional experience in order to bring accessible, practical trauma education to all who desire to learn more.


The episode delves into the concept of trauma-informed leadership, the significance of understanding one’s needs, the negative impact of neglecting personal trauma, and how leaders can foster psychologically safe environments that encourage vulnerability, resilience, and collective growth. Lee also details an upcoming experiential event by the Institute, aimed at expanding individual capacities and reconceptualizing the approach to leadership and organizational culture.

🔑 Key Themes & Takeaways:

  • Trauma-Informed Approaches: We discuss what trauma-informed leadership looks like and how it can transform organizational practices and leadership styles. 🌍

  • Institute for Trauma and Psychological Safety: Lee talks about the founding of her institute, its mission, and the programs it offers that cater to developing safer organizational spaces. 🏢

  • Personal Journey: Lee shares her transition from a healthcare professional to an educator and coach, focusing on the needs and well-being of leaders in various sectors. 🛤️

  • Impact on Personal Development: Explore how addressing trauma not only improves professional capabilities but also personal growth and self-awareness. 🌱

  • Sustainable Leadership Practices: Discussing strategies for maintaining balance and preventing burnout in high-demand leadership roles. 🔋

We talk about:

  • 00:00 Intro

  • 01:46 The Institute for Trauma and why she founded it

  • 04:29 Starting a side business coaching other women

  • 07:30 Leaving the bedside

  • 12:17 Why do leaders need this work

  • 17:56 New event November 2024 – “Full Capacity”

  • 21:03 Why do we not do enough to help with psychological safety without attaching the word trauma to it?

  • 26:18 The feeling of resentment under the frustration, and unpacking dysregulation

  • 35:11 One of the riskiest things to do in corporate – ask for help from the wrong people

  • 40:18 Intimacy and vulnerability in the workspace

  • 47:56  Rapid fire questions

🌈 Closing Thoughts:

Our deep dive with Lee Cordell offers invaluable perspectives on integrating trauma-informed practices into leadership. This episode not only highlights the importance of understanding the role of trauma in professional settings but also provides practical advice for leaders to implement these insights into their daily lives.

Join us as we explore how transforming leadership through a trauma-informed lens can lead to more compassionate and effective management practices. Share your thoughts, experiences, or questions about integrating trauma-informed practices in your leadership on our social media channels.

Show More Show Less

Carolyn: Hi, welcome to evolve a new era of leadership. I’m your host, Carolyn Swara, and today’s guest that we’re having on the show is none other than Lee Cordell. Now, my conversation with Lee, we are going to talk about trauma informed leadership. Lee is really one of the leaders in this space, and I’m really excited to have this conversation.

I’m going to ask her about the Institute that she founded. It’s called the Institute for Trauma and Psychological Safety. I want to get curious and understand the programs they offer, the impact that they have. And you know what, Lee is just a lot of fun. She’s got a lot of hope. And so who knows what other fun things that we will end up exploring on this on this podcast.

Thanks for joining us. And I hope you enjoy the show.

All right, Evolve listeners, we have the fabulous Leigh Cordell with us today. Thank you so much for joining Leigh. I’m really excited for our conversation.

Lee: I am so excited as well. Thanks for having me.

Carolyn: Yeah, you know, I know we, we’ve met once but there is just so much fun energy and hopeful and just so much depth. And I’m just so glad we were finally able to make this happen on the, on the call. And I’m so glad that the listeners will have an opportunity to hear all about the work that you’re doing and the passion behind it.

And that’s where I thought we’d start first. Is that, does that sound okay?

Lee: Yeah, absolutely.

Carolyn: Well, you started this institute, the Institute for Trauma. Now I know like that URL says the Institute for Trauma, but your front page

talks about the Institute for Trauma and Psych Safety.

So let’s start off with, just tell us a bit about the organization and, and why you started it.

Lee: sure. So we are primarily an educational organization. We do training and consulting and coaching as well. But our mission is really to help people understand at the most simple levels, how to create safer and more supportive spaces and healthier relationships and really just feel safe. better on a day to day basis, honestly. And I, I’ll be very transparent. I was not planning on starting an Institute in my life. Like that was not,

if you had been like, yeah, right. Lead name, the top 100 careers you can have. This was Not one of them. I actually began my journey as a nurse and then became a nurse practitioner and a doctorally prepared nurse.

And, you know, I. Spent over a decade in critical care in the inpatient setting. I also worked as a graduate level professor. I taught the 3 core courses that nurse practitioners need before they go into their practical trainings and. You know, based on my past painful experiences as a, as a child and as a teenager, and then really channeling that a lot of those experiences into my work as a nurse, really wanting to help people.

And what I didn’t realize was underneath was like, save people, fix things for people and be the hero. Right.

And so. As I got further and further into my career, I realized that that drive was not gonna it wasn’t sustainable. 

Carolyn: The drive, the drive for what? Like 

Lee: like the drive to the drive to try to like. Just change the world in that way, you know, to, to try to fix things for people and make the world a better place, which I wanna be really clear. That’s an amazing drive to have. And the way I was going about it wasn’t exactly it, it was coming from this place of feeling like I needed to do that to prove that I was worthy and I was valuable.

Carolyn: Well, that doesn’t sound familiar at all, Lee. Really, I haven’t, I can’t relate to that at all.

Lee: I know, I’m sure no one listening to this is, they’re like, I have no idea what you mean.

Well, and that’s really, it’s really common and successful high achieving humans. So when of course I was like, not that the button wasn’t getting pushed by that part of my life anymore. 

And so naturally, you know, I have three kids and I’m in school and I’m doing all these things.

I’m like, let’s just start a side business. And so I started working as a, as a coach for other women who were feeling like unsatisfied. And, and it’s so funny looking back at it now. Cause I’m like, Oh, you could just see all the

signs, but at, at the time I couldn’t. And so around December of 2019, I was like, I had finished my doctorate.

I had gotten certified as a clinical trauma professional. And I was sitting there going, Ooh, I don’t know that I’m supposed to be doing this.

And so I think I’m supposed to be moving more into this coaching space because, I feel like I can do more good there

Carolyn: Who were the people like, what’s the the profile kind of, of the people you were coaching? Like who, who were seeking you out?

Lee: A lot of women a lot of entrepreneurs or people who had the capacity to easily impact their income by how much they did or, or the, their, their activities on a daily basis.

So like sales roles, those types of things, people in commission and they were. Women who were a direct reflection of me, you know, a year or two before where it was like recognizing that you just, you can’t put your, you can’t put your self worth and you can’t put your your happiness in someone else’s hands or in the world’s hands because it’s never like, it’s never going to be enough.

Carolyn: Ain’t going to work.

Lee: It’s not going to work.

So. January, 2020, I, I went to my husband and I said, Hey I want to, I think I want to leave like teaching and nursing, and I want to do this coaching full time. And I kid you not, we still joke about this to this day. My husband is a very realistic human. Like he looks at all the potential bads before we, he gets to the good. I’m the exact opposite. I’m like, it’s going to 

Carolyn: to say there’s a balance. There’s a balance there. I’m 

Lee: Right. Yeah. 

Carolyn: Come

Lee: And. He said, okay, I love this and I see how happy it makes you. And I believe in this. And like, what if something catastrophic happens? What if the world goes to,

you know what, right? 

Carolyn: like reading reports or 

something? Did he know what was bubbling? 

Lee: no. I was like, I think you’re way more intuitive than you. And he was like, I’m just worried that economically, like something will destabilize and then what are we going to do? You know, you’re the primary income. He was, he had stayed at home with our kids. He was working part time at that point

doing work. He really loved. But, and I said, look, what number do you need to see me hit for 3 months?

Carolyn: Okay.

Lee: And he said, X amount. I said, great, done. And three weeks later, the pandemic hit and I was like, ah,

Carolyn: Did you still hit the three month target? Cause I’m 

Lee: I, tripled the three month target in two months. And he was like, okay, do your thing. So, I left teaching in August of 2020, and then I left the bedside in December of 2020. And

Carolyn: And wait, can you just describe what the bedside means? Cause 

Lee: yeah, absolutely. 

Carolyn: they don’t know what that means, that that means you came out of clinical practice, right? 

Lee: So I was, I thank you. I, I was, I appreciate

Carolyn: People might’ve been saying some stories 

Lee: Like what’s the bedside. Oh my gosh. I’ve never thought of that. And that is so amazing. Yeah. So I was working 19 to 20 hour shifts every weekend. I had taken care of 40 patients who were admitted to either the inpatient hematology, like the bloods the issue service or bone marrow transplant. So I was on call. And. Was like first responder to anything that happened.

So I, you know, that was a lot of responsibility and a lot of stress. 

So I left the bedside and that was when the real work started. And I went through this whole six month journey. Of, okay, well, who am I if I’m not saving anyone? Which again, I didn’t realize that’s what was happening, but it was a identity. It was an ego death, you know, it was, I don’t know who I am and I don’t know what’s going on. So finally I’m hitting June, July, and I’ve like really gone through my own stuff around this or so I’ve thought. And I’m driving in the car with my husband and I’m like, I just, I don’t want this to be about me anymore. And I, and I realized now what I was saying was, I don’t want making the world a better place to rest solely on my shoulders. Like I want to do this as a collective, as a community. Like I want it to be about something bigger than me. And he’s just listening. He’s just driving and listening and letting me talk and talk and talk and talk. And we’re pulling into the driveway and I went, I know what I’m going to do. And he was like, okay,

Carolyn: What?

Lee: no, he didn’t even ask. He was like, okay. He’s like, I, so I ran upstairs and I came back downstairs after an hour. And I was like, I just founded the Institute, the LLC paperwork’s filed the bank, I emailed our accountant to get the bank accounts opened. I emailed team and told him, this is what I want to do. Like it’s done. And he was like, of course.

Carolyn: And that’s how it was born.

Lee: Yeah. And It was terrifying because it required me to, to step away from about 80 percent of what I was doing currently in my business. And that was 80 percent of the income again. So it was just this other, another shift of going, Hey you’re going to take this big risk. And we, it was, it was the most incredible, like, I can’t explain to people how that felt when I went into our space and I said, Hey, I’m doing this thing and I’m shifting.

And, you know, I totally get if you don’t want to come. With me and this is what we’re going to be doing. And we had 22 people be like, I want to take, I want, I want to enroll. I want to

learn from you. I want to do this with you. And it was like, it was not a small investment. It was over 10, 000. And we

had 22 people be like, I’m in. And I was like, I’m in. Oh, okay.

We’re doing this.

Carolyn: Yeah.

Lee: So that was two and a half years ago. And we’ve reached several million people at this point and where you know, we’ve worked with thousands of people directly and it’s just been. It’s been beyond like wildest dreams.

Carolyn: And it’s not all resting on your shoulders, is it?

Lee: No, no. Team jokes. They’re like, you’re the visionary. You’re the one who goes out there and talks to people and makes friends and just like has fun and does podcasts, does things like this. And

then. You know, you teach, you teach a lot

and we help with the day to day. We help make sure people are supported on the backend.

One of our programs that we run, that’s nine months long. I’m not even in the Facebook group because it was dysregulating for me. I was in there trying to answer everybody all the

time. And team was like, Nope, we’re going to hire somebody for that. We’re going to put

someone in there that can do that for you.

And so it’s not all it’s, it’s a group effort on everybody’s.

Carolyn: Which is such a, I mean, we could have a whole conversation about that, that evolution from individual. I need to do it all myself to a collectivist approach, which you and I both know is a big part of the healing journey for people to recognize that you don’t have to do it all on your own.

What are like, what are some of the programs that.

Like, so, I mean, I know you’ve come from the healthcare space, which gives you this deep knowledge of what trauma is, what trauma isn’t. And. What I find with, with my work and what I’m really passionate about is how can we inspire or invite leaders in other spaces that might think, I don’t need to know about trauma.

Like get what I got stuff to do. I got a business to run. So how do your programs or what do your programs like tell us why leaders would benefit from this work.

Lee: You know, it’s, it’s interesting you say the word need because Our work is about making sure your needs are met. And if there’s one group of people I’ve seen who are willing to just fall on the sword for the needs of other people, it is leaders. And, and it’s not, interestingly, you know, you talk about healthcare and versus others, healthcare leaders are some of the most self sacrificial humans I know.

And. I know that I just want to say this too. I have so much respect and empathy for a lot of the corporate leaders out there today, because there’s this idea that they don’t care that they’re unfeeling that they’re only in it for money. Like, we’ve really created this. This narrative and this identity and. The leaders that I work with outside even in healthcare and without, and I’m sure the ones you work with to like, they care so much to the point that they’re like, oh, I have to work 16 hours and not eat. Sure. Oh, I need to not take a check this month so that I can pay my team. Sure. Oh, I need to do these things in order to, to make sure that my people are good. And so my. Like my proposal is that as leaders, you learning how to Really understand what your core needs are. And, and maybe you do a little bit of the journey that I went on as well, where it’s like, what’s, what drove you to this position in the first place? Because there’s likely some trauma there.

There’s likely some past painful experiences and there’s likely some really great experiences and great meaning in that too. And if we can help you recover. Reframe some of those things that happened and shift how you’re approaching yourself and approaching other people and approaching your work. The magnitude of your impact is exponentially increased.

Carolyn: And the magnitude of your burnout likelihood is exponentially 


Lee: Yeah. 

Carolyn: You know, I love the way that you said that, Leigh. I wish I had understood. If I go back to my own leadership days and in the corporate world, I wish I could have understood that there was a difference between the system and what the system sort of promotes or creates.

And that is, it’s the system is is a separate piece from me. And I think that’s one of the biggest messages and biggest things that I try and work with my clients is you are not the system.

Lee: Mm-Hmm.

Carolyn: The system is broken. And when I say the system, you know, for, for those of you listening, what do you mean by the system?

It’s that environment within which we’re trying to work. And I think the more we can realize we don’t have to be the system and it takes effort. It takes courage. It takes a commitment to find yourself within that system.

But I just, I love the way that you invited people to think about it that way.

Lee: Thank you. 

You know, you asked about our programs and, and there’s something that we’re, I, again, I just love the timing of how this happened because I wouldn’t have been able to share this when we originally talked

about having this conversation. So, last November, we were going to host our 1st in person event here in Columbus, Ohio. It was called the create conference. It was like, it looked good. And I couldn’t get myself excited about it. Like I couldn’t, I couldn’t get myself to promote it. And, and I was going through some of my own health stuff at the time.

And finally, in, August, September, I went to them and I said, we gotta, we gotta move this.

We gotta push this back a whole year. We had sold tickets. We had been talking about this

places like, and I had to go to everybody who bought a ticket and say, Hey, If you want a refund, that’s cool. And some people did. And, and also say, and if you hang with me and if you can come next year. This experience is going to be so different.

I don’t know what it is yet. I don’t know what it’s going to be. I just know it’s going to be good because I’m unwilling to do this unless

Carolyn: It’s good. That 

Lee: good. And about three months ago, I was just sitting there and we were having this conversation about, because on our team, it’s almost all ex like leaders in corporate, in academia, in, you know, and. They’re still leaders. They just run their own businesses now. And. I said, I want, I don’t want to do a conference.

Carolyn: Hmm.

Lee: I

said, I want to I was like, I want to do an experiential event. I want people to be able to

come and I want them to try all of these, like, some more traditional and some a little, like, seem a little weird or, you know, new things like. Restorative yoga

and swamping and like grounding outside and all of these things that, that are expand your capacity. Like, I want people to, to be able to get back to their full capacity because that’s what I’m seeing. It’s not when I watch people in burnout, it’s a diminishment of their capacity.

Carolyn: Right.

Lee: And team was like, okay, so full capacity.

And I was like, Oh yeah, that’s what it is. And,

Carolyn: that’s what it’s called. 

Lee: It’s called full capacity.


it’s a, it’s a four day event in November. And I’m, and I wrote the entire sales page over two days in seven hours. Like I

was Just in 

Carolyn: dropped right out of

Lee: right. Because I was like, so excited about it. And I’m, and I’m, every time I have a conversation, even right now, I can feel myself smiling.

And I was like, Oh, this is, this is it. And. It goes to exactly what you just said. I was planning it for people knowing that they were coming from a system and going well, this is what they would expect to see at a conference instead of

asking myself. Well, what do they need and how do we help them? Develop their own individual capacity expansion because every leader is different, every person is going to identify with different practices, different things that they can do. And how do we, how do we do that in a way where they get to develop their own individuality and then take that back and people are gonna be like, why are you smiling so much?

Why are

you so happy? Like what’s going on? And that’s, that creates ripple effects.

Carolyn: Yeah. I mean, I love it. I, it’s, so it’s in November. When is it? Let’s just do a 

Lee: sure. It’s November 7th through 10th in Columbus. The other thing I wanted to do, because I, again, I being in that self sacrificial state, I knew like, I just remembered how often I wouldn’t take care of myself. So we’ve built, we’ve built it in a way that, you know, when you come. Every meal is taken care of there’s a transportation credit from the airport.

If you’re flying in your accommodations are taken care of, like, every bit

is and and we’re not going to talk to you for 12 hours. We’re not going to have you, you know, standing up and doing things and saying things that dysregulate your nervous system in a room with people. You don’t know. It’s it is. What do you need at

every moment? And we’re going to keep asking that. What do you need? Do you need to not be in the room with us right now? You need to go take a nap. Great. Go.

Carolyn: Right. Right.

Lee: You need to pull someone in the hallway and have a one on one conversation with somebody who can listen. Great. Let’s do that.

Like it’s really, we want this to be unlike anything that anyone’s ever experienced.

Carolyn: I’m hearing a lot of embodiment, a lot of sort of, reverence for not just the mind, but for other parts of our body as well. So can we just tie these concepts? So it’s called the Institute for Trauma. We actually haven’t addressed what that that word is and why. And, you know, regular listeners are going to know that sort of the under current of, a new era of leadership really is understanding.

what trauma is, what it isn’t. And what I loved about your, your new, like your website page is that connection with psych, psychological safety, you know, because of Amy Edmondson, that, that word, that term has, I shouldn’t say because of she’s been definitely a lot of important research, but I think psychological safety is a term we hear a lot in organizations.

Now, can you tie these two terms together? Why do we not do enough justice to psych safety without attaching the word trauma to it or connecting the word trauma to it.

Lee: So the working definition of trauma we use is any event or experience that leads to constriction, restriction, or disconnection from yourself, from other people, or from the world.

Carolyn: Right.

Lee: So, when we think about psychological safety, this ability to take risks and bring our full self to the table, if I don’t understand that people are walking into my space with a massive collection of experiences that they’ve had. Up until just before they walked into this space, and I asked them to trust me, and I asked them to be vulnerable with me, and I asked them to, you know, speak up and take risks and say what they want to say. That is actually a really invalidating way of going about things. And, and I, I, Say that because, and I want to be so clear.

I don’t, I don’t believe that people are intentionally invalidating anybody.

Carolyn: I’m with you.

Lee: Collectively. What we are saying is I need you to drop your experiences at the door and pretend like none of that’s happened and just trust me and that, I don’t know about you. I can’t do that.

Carolyn: Well, I didn’t, I can’t do that. I didn’t know that I couldn’t 

Lee: Mm hmm. 

Carolyn: I didn’t know that I couldn’t do that, I’d felt that there was something wrong with me or that I wasn’t good enough.

Lee: Which is re traumatizing.

Carolyn: Exactly. But I didn’t even know what the hell that word meant trauma. I was like, that’s not me. I’m,

I’m fine.

Like I haven’t had a big natural disaster or,

you know, like I just had, anyway, I, I just, I love the way that you’ve described that.

Lee: When we talk about psychological safety. We talk about how in order to have that, you need to have four, the four core areas of trust established. And so that’s going to take time. And what most people do when they’re trying to get people to trust them, when they’re trying to foster trust is

they, they do the cognitive side of

trust, which is I’m Hey, you can trust me because I’m capable and you can trust me because I’m consistent.

Carolyn: Yeah.

Lee: And then we do this thing where, and I’m glad you talked about like the mind versus the body where we say we intellectualize the effective side of the trust and we’re like, look, we’re going to be honest with you. We’re a, we’re a family, you know, we’re going to care about you, we’re going to support you. And so often in the first moments of vulnerability in a space, that’s, that doesn’t hold up. Yeah.

Carolyn: No, but it’s, it’s total BS. We’re not family. We are not a family at work.

Like it drives me nuts when those two things get intermingled. It’s just, I think it’s disrespectful almost. It’s ignorant and disrespectful. Naive, not ignorant, naive.

Lee: It is, it is, I understand the sentiment. I understand the intent behind it. And the

other thing is, is, is some people, family is not a happy experience.

Carolyn: Exactly.

Lee: So the idea that you’re saying, Hey, we’re a family. They’re like, cool. So we scream at each other and we neglect each other and

we hurt each other. So this idea, like the idea is one trying to establish effective trust.

You want to know how you establish effective trust. You, you’re in your own body feeling your feelings and as someone is sharing how they feel, you are experiencing that you are witnessing them in it. You are being attentional and intentional, and that requires vulnerability and vulnerability, and not just, oh, compassion or empathy, like deep, oh, this person just said something. That’s really heartbreaking. And I’m feeling that in my chest and I’m talking to them going, wow, I feel so sad you’re going through that.

Carolyn: Right.

Lee: One of the top reason, one of the top hesitancies I hear from leaders is, well, I don’t have the time for that. And when we really get into it, I’m like, look, you, you don’t, you, you don’t not have the time for that. There’s a double negative, but like,

Carolyn: Yep.

Lee: you only have time for that.

Carolyn: Yeah. Do you know, what I hear when, when leaders say that? What, where I go is I think the subtle narrative under that is I don’t have time for my own feelings. And I can’t, if I don’t have time for that, then I sure as hell can’t make it for other people.

Lee: Right.

Carolyn: I don’t know if they know they’re saying that, but that’s an essence what’s happening.

I think.

Lee: I’m curious. If you, how you feel about this statement, like if this resonates with you and I’m curious if it resonates for the people listening. Something for me was I would feel frustration when people would come to me with like issues or you know, I’m thinking about the students who would be like, Oh, this

thing’s happening. And I would get frustrated. And underneath of that, I realized I was feeling resentment. And that resentment was coming from this person’s allowed to come to me and tell me they have a need and expect accommodation, expect help, all of these things. Who the heck can I go to for that?

Carolyn: Wow. Wow. So that’s powerfully cause you know, what comes up for me is I Never even realized that my needs weren’t being met. And that my needs were based on serving other people’s needs.

Lee: Yeah.

Carolyn: And so that, that I never went there. I didn’t consciously go there. Where I go to is more of like, gosh, why am I always the ones kind of circling back to what we were talking about at the beginning?

Oh, this is hard carrying this for all these people. I’ve got to fix this.

And, and that is a direct connection back to the events that unfolded in my childhood.

I eat trauma,

Lee: Mm-Hmm. 

Carolyn: and, and throughout my whole life, like I’d spent a life of being a really reliable and good helper and good creator of safe, like, or spaces where people could be seen and heard.

But I didn’t know that my body was trying to say, Hey, Carolyn, you don’t have to do it this way. You don’t have to fix it for people. So here’s, here’s the piece that I think where leadership can just absolutely be transformed is when we can understand what trauma is and isn’t. When we recognize that we cannot create psychologically safe places without addressing our own experiences.

We are going to Try and fix things for people because that’s what the system wants us to do. But if we can, you know, hold space witness, I know some of those terms might feel a little bit woo woo for people, but that’s ultimately if we can be there and hold the space for people and allow that moment to be seen, which can you and I both know, it doesn’t need to take a lot of time is sometimes it’s just a minute or two.

And that’s That can unleash, I think, so much potential in individuals, in teams, and in organizations. But it requires a very, very conscious move against what the system has sort of ingrained into us.

Lee: And you know, to even like expand this out, because I am a firm believer that like when I work with clients, we do not separate personal and professional. I’m like, look, there is no magic invisible line.

Carolyn: Nope.

Lee: And Yeah. Yes. If you are really good at separating your personal life from your professional life, what that tells me is, is that you’ve had a lot of experience disassociating

Carolyn: Yep.

Lee: or dissociating.

I love that in English, by the way, that you can say both of those,

right? It’s like orientated and oriented. They’re the same. But the, that tells me that you have a lot of experience being so dysregulated in your nervous system that you have to shut a part of it off or you can’t function.

Carolyn: Yeah.

Lee: And. I get excited when I see people who come to me like that as well, because I’m like, look, if your nervous system is that skilled at protecting you, we’ve got a lot to work with. There’s a lot of sufficiency there. We’re just going to shift the focus. And. So going back to this, you know, there’s no division. One of the areas for me, I worked as hard as I did because I felt capable and confident at work. My husband stayed home with our children. And I remember I was so unkind to myself.

I was like, Oh, he’s just a better parent than I am. He’s better able to connect and relate and attune

and, and he can stay regulated with them. And again, I, my cup was, you know, to use that, that common thing, my cup was so empty. My kids were asking for things from me and I was resentful of my own children because it was like, gosh, like I don’t have anything else to give.

I got nothing. Like

I got nothing, but I

could go to work and I could at least get appreciation and admiration. And like, I could

feel like I was making a difference there. And I hear that, especially from a lot of women leaders. They’re I

feel like I’m Not a good mom. I feel like I, the reason I work as much as I do is because over there, at least I feel successful.

Carolyn: Yeah.

Lee: And the cool part of this is. If you do this work around really creating psychological safety for yourself, meaning you’re allowed to take risks, you’re allowed to try new things, you’re allowed to, to feel certain feelings and be vulnerable and be kind to yourself through the process. That’s not just going to shift at work.

That’s going to shift in your, your intimate relationships. It’s going to shift in your parenting. That’s going to shift in a whole bunch of other places because you’re doing the work internally. So

it, it’s gonna, it has to affect everything else.

Carolyn: Exactly. It’s so, I mean, your brain doesn’t know, like you said, there’s no line that’s crossed. And I think, you know, the year of 2020 broke that wide open. I mean, certainly there was a section of people who knew that perhaps it, it just, again, couldn’t be absorbed into the system, but 2020 broke that wide open.

Lee: Yeah, 

Carolyn: was a horrible way for that to have to but I think there is going to be good that Not, I think, I know there is some good, there’s a lot of devastation going with that. And I don’t want to diminish that. But it was like high time that we allowed our systems to really bust open and see this.

Lee: yeah. Well, and we’re seeing it now in so many different places. And you know, you and I briefly talked about before this of the idea that we all like, we only have door number 1 or door number 2 in front of

  1. And it’s that either or and that. they, like, if there’s. Top three things when people come into our our organization.

I’m like, this is what I hope you take away from this It is that life is not either or if you are in a situation Where your brain is telling you that you have to choose this or this and that’s it. You are not regulated

Carolyn: Oh, that’s such a good, say that 

Lee: Yeah, if you are in a scenario where your brain is telling you pick door one or door two and that’s it And I, you don’t necessarily like either of them, but like, just pick 1

that’s urgency.

That is narrow mindedness and urgency and narrow mindedness are the cardinal signs that your nervous system is in a hyper aroused state that it is feeling like there’s threat.

So you are dysregulated and you need to go. I, I don’t, we don’t say it this way because telling people to calm down is, doesn’t

typically lead to calm, but like, you need to go literally calm your nervous system

Carolyn: Or, yeah, like to resource, you need to resource. Yeah. Yeah.

Lee: Yeah. And that is. That for, for so long, I thought that I needed to do it on my own all the time

Carolyn: Right.

Lee: because it was like, well, I can’t let anyone know that I’m really dysregulated, which is hilarious looking back at it because humans were mammals. We are hardwired to connect and relate and to rely on each other for help.


have one of the longest dependent stages of any animal on the planet.

Carolyn: Yep.

Lee: We cannot take care of ourselves when we are born. And we, I, my, one of my, I have twins, they’re 11 now. And one of my twins, when they were two or three said something that I just has stuck with me. She like nearly hurt herself badly.

And she went, Oh, I almost deathed myself. And I

said, is the primary, like as a parent, your primary job in those first five to seven years is like. Make

sure they’re good and Keep them alive. Keep them

safe. So we forget that we get older and we’re like, Oh, I must take care of everything on my own. I must do everything on my own.

I don’t ask for help. That makes you look weak. That makes you look bad. That makes you


 One of the riskiest things you can do in corporate is ask for help from the wrong person.

Carolyn: See more about that. Cause you know, in the work that I do, I’m sure you do it too. Asking for help is a good thing. Why is it the most riskiest thing to do in the corporate space?

Lee: Because we don’t know a lot of times how it’s going to be perceived.

Carolyn: Right. So, okay. Yeah. Maybe. Bye. We don’t know how it’s going to be perceived. And we make up stories

that, Oh, well, I can’t ask for help. Cause I’ve been here for 30, 20 years. So they’re going to think I should know better. I can’t ask for help. Cause then they’re going to wonder why they hired me. And, and here’s, here’s what I think is so important.

What I kind of want to check in with you on is are those stories true? Is it, is it okay to ask for help


Lee: can I use an example

Carolyn: Absolutely. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Lee: So when, again, I was like, Oh, this is a personal example. I’m like, remember you just said they’re the same thing. So my husband and I, he’s been on this journey with me too for a while. I get really activated when he does something and I’ll start to kind of chirp at him and he’ll stop and he’ll be like, Hey, are you reacting to pass someone else past me or current me?

Carolyn: I just got 

Lee: Right. Right. And that is so helpful. dysregulation of like, I can’t ask for help, this person proven to you? That when you ask for help, they are going to shame, blame, restrict, constrict, disconnect.

If so, that’s not a safe person to ask for help. Let’s find someone else.

Carolyn: Right.

Lee: If this person, you don’t have enough data about them, right? And you’ve had past painful experiences of asking for help from someone, someone similar and being hurt. That’s a, that’s a risk that I, I believe we take because you can’t, otherwise you’re judging this person. That they’re going to judge you and then that gray area is, is this someone who in the past has hurt me and I see them working to be a safer person.

Carolyn: Yes.

Lee: So there, it might be. Okay. I got to do a little more of my own regulation work before I ask for help. And. They’re trying to connect. So I get to like, if, if it feels worth it to me, I get to try to connect to.

Carolyn: Yes, which is back to my needs.

Lee: Right.

Carolyn: It’s okay for me to have needs.

Lee: Yeah.

Carolyn: Not a message we’re used to.

Lee: Yeah. It, it has been transformational to be able to, this happened last night. I was sharing something very like pokey I’ll say like,

We were talking about a pretty deep wound and I had made some realizations and I, I said, Hey, Can I tell you about this very emotional thing? And can you hold off on responding logically?


Carolyn: Mm. that your logic isn’t amazing. It’s that right now, if you share logic with me, I’m going to react. Because I

Lee: just need to be able to feel the thing. And he was like, okay. So he’s super quiet throughout the whole thing. I get done and I’m like, okay, well, what do you have to say? And he goes, well, I’m having a hard time knowing what to say, because I want to say something logically. And I was like, okay, like, let me breathe. Like, let me get ready for it. And then he did. And what he said was so unexpected

and so helpful. And I was like, wow, if we had done this the way that we did this several years ago, We wouldn’t have gotten 20. I couldn’t, we wouldn’t even have the conversation. It would have been

an immediate fight. So bringing that over to corporate, some people go, well, that’s me, your intimate relationship. I see when I worked at the hospital, I saw my colleagues more than I saw my family. I worked 60 hours a week. So this idea that we don’t develop and foster intimacy with the people that we work with, that you can just be like, oh, business is business or, oh, like these are, you are a human and they are a human

and you are having feelings and you have needs and we have to be able to have those conversations.

That is not, I hear people say that that’s unprofessional. That is the most professional thing you can do.

Carolyn: It’s, it’s this, it’s this hangup of the word intimacy, but I’m with you. Like, and if we, if we, I know we’re not going to go there on this episode, but like, if we go into polyvagal theory,

that’s activating the social engagement system. That allows us to be connected and to be seen and to be in flow. All these things we say we want, but we can’t get there on our own.

We have to have that intimacy, that connectedness. 

And I think, you know, that example that you shared, which is so beautiful. I mean, give your husband a hug, maybe like a high five or whatever. what I heard in that story was the ability to pause. Ask for what you need, listen, and that gave you just, it sounds like enough space to be able to receive what he, what he shared afterwards.

Lee: Yeah.

Carolyn: Tell me how that doesn’t fit in a corporate space. Like, insert whatever issue you’re trying to address. It’s not, it’s not the, again, intimacy has sexual connotations to it, I think for so many 

people, but it’s that intimacy and trust to say, here’s what I need. can you give that to me?


Lee: I have a fellow coach who just radically shifted my perception of intimacy. She said, Lee, I want you to think about being intimate with someone means they are close enough to hurt you, right? That’s all that means.

Carolyn: so true.

Lee: And I, and she’s like, and vulnerability means that you give them access to the parts of you that are like most easily hurt. You’re sharing, you’re like, this is a soft spot. This is a spot that if you, if you poked, if you touched would really hurt. And. You know, I actually, I feel really blessed to have experienced corporate from the lens of healthcare and of academia, because those are probably 2 places where there is required intimacy,

Carolyn: Hmm.

Lee: you know, in, if as a nurse, I worked in the medical ICU for several years, you are close.

Carolyn: Yeah.

With the families, with 

Lee: their families, with their patients. I mean, literally you are physically close with them. You are emotionally close with them and something I saw happen so often was it is really hard to be that it is really hard to stay vulnerable because you know that this is likely not going to end well.

Carolyn: Right.

Lee: And so being able to stay hopeful and vulnerable and also practical and do your job, it’s a very delicate balance.

And it was one that I was not able to, to maintain for long term, which is why I ended up shifting and taking that over to corporate, you know, you may not be that close. You’re, you’re close these people, you are, if you’re leading people who you sign their paychecks, or you determine if they have a job or not, that is intimacy

Carolyn: Yeah. 

Lee: and that is you know, we talk about power dynamics, which again, we don’t really have time to get into and that is an inherent vulnerability on their part.

Because you have the power to hurt them. Even if you don’t ever intentionally want to hurt someone, you still hold that ability to hurt them in a way

that’s significantly affects them. So asking them to come in and just trust you. It’s a lot easier on the part of the leader sometimes

because we don’t have that on the line.

Carolyn: Well, and then I’m back to, it’s, it’s naive

and it is again, another, another, I think indicator of how well do you know yourself

Lee: Mm

Carolyn: to to really think that that’s true or like I’ve got an open door policy. Anybody can come in.

Lee: hmm.

Carolyn: That’s coming from another place as well.

Lee: I. I have a, a business client and this has happened several times before, but this in particular happened this week where I was sharing something and I asked them a question. They said, Oh, actually, that’s not what I. Exactly what I do. And this was in their day job. They were like, I do this. And I had this immediate moment, like of just shame washing over my body, because not only was this a one on one conversation, this was happening in a group. And I was like, Oh my gosh, what is this going to look like as a leader? And then I paused and I thought, wait a second, this is amazing because this client just corrected me about what they do in front of 15 other people. So stop making this about you.

Carolyn: Yep.

Lee: And I went. I, I said, you know, I’m just going to present like I just had a moment because I just, I, I never want my impact to be that.

I don’t listen or I don’t understand

y’all. And I said, I feel so grateful that you felt safe enough to correct me. Thank you for correcting me.

Carolyn: Yes. Okay.

Lee: that was not fun. Right? like, I would, I would love to never have to do that again. And I know

I’m going to going to need to. And like, those are the types of things as leaders we can do

Carolyn: Yes. 

Lee: it shows everyone in that room now.

Oh, she took a risk and spoke up and said, actually, that’s not right. And not only did she not put her feelings on us. Or make it about her. She thanked me for being vulnerable and saying the thing.

Carolyn: Yep.

Lee: That, and the only reason I’m able to do that is because I was able to pause and say, Okay, hold on.

Let me feel my feelings. What do

I need? 

Carolyn: And the only way reason you were able to do that was because you’ve addressed past adverse experiences or trauma

in your life. Our, our inability to do that is impacted by all the stories in our life.

Lee: Yes. Absolutely. Yeah. So many childhood experiences of be like learning to be defensive

when people gave me feedback. And that has been, if there’s one horn I loved, like, I just get so excited to toot. It’s like, I’m not as defensive anymore. And that is so cool.

Carolyn: Yeah, girl. You need to do more than toot that horn, develop a whole Institute.

Lee: Right.

Carolyn: Lee, we could talk for hours and hours and hours. It, you know, the work you’re doing, the work the Institute is doing. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. It’s Ohio. Ohio has like a powerhouse of trauma informed educators.

Like, I don’t know what’s going on in Ohio, but I think I need to come down and visit y’all 

Lee: Please people sleep on Ohio. I tell you what Columbus is a, there’s, it’s a. It’s a

Carolyn: Something going on there. Yeah.

Cool. Where did the, where does your baseball team play out of?

Lee: We have two. So,

Carolyn: the blue jacket. No, 

Lee: Blue Jackets is hockey, they’re in Columbus, and

then we have the Reds down in Cincinnati, and then we have the Guardians up in

Cleveland. I grew up in Cincinnati. My husband grew up. A, a, an avid Cleveland fan. So I have transitioned over just to make our lives easier.

Carolyn: There you go. There’s partnership. There’s intimacy Right. 

Lee: Right. 

Carolyn: Well, the where could our listeners find out more about your work?

Lee: So if you just go to our website, institutefortrauma. com, that’s a really great place to check out our resource page, learn more about our event in November and connect with us.

Carolyn: Yep. We’ll make sure that those are in the show notes. I’d encourage you all to follow Lee on LinkedIn as well. You got lots of activity going on there. And before we sign off, can I ask you the three evolve questions? I ask all the guests.

Lee: I’m excited. Yes.

Carolyn: All right. All right. 

So first question, something that you would like to share with the group here about a moment where your awareness about yourself went from here to here, like, whoa, you just learned something about yourself that just was revelational, if that’s even a word.

I think I just might’ve made up a word

 and it could be a moment. And it doesn’t need to be a big, long 

Lee: No, Yeah.

I think You know There was a moment in my life where I really had the opportunity to it kind of a crossroads of, am I going to take care of my own needs? Or am I going to put the needs of

other people in front of mine? And the thing I was proud of was that I chose door number three of

look, I don’t, yes, my needs matter.

And if. If those don’t matter to you, then you get to do what’s best. And I’m not leaving and I’m not sacrificing anymore either.

Carolyn: Wow. So that that awareness of you have needs and those needs matter.

Lee: Yeah.


And it’s not my needs or their needs.

Carolyn: Hmm.

Lee: It can be both.

Carolyn: Great. Oh, that’s lovely. That’s amazing. I love it. It’s so compact. That little lesson you just shared. 

Okay. Number two. So this one has to do a little bit with what we talked about, like resourcing, self regulating. What’s a strategy that works really well for you?

Lee: So, We have a, a tool called the 10 second protocol, and it is something that I used to do when I was a nurse practitioner, but didn’t have a name for it. And

I don’t know even how I started doing it, but when I worked on call at night, my office was on the other side of the building of the floor where patients were.

So if there was an emergency where a patient was actively decompensating, I would have to run and then go in and like, Lead and so I would run there and then I would pause outside the room and I would squeeze everything really tight for 5 seconds and then I would let it go and I would

breathe for 5 seconds and then I would walk in because I wanted to make sure that I was like in a hey, we’ve got this like, calm state because I knew how much that changed the energy of everyone else in the room. One of my mentors, when I told her about this, she was like, why are you not teaching this to


Carolyn: that is so brilliant because it’s like tension and, and then it just allows you to release it all. 

Lee: it needs, You

know, in those moments, you need something quick. You

need something that, and you can do it in your chair. I’ve done it in

meetings before where I only do the bottom half of my body or I only do my hands. And the best part, like I’m actually tearing up right now. My son, he’s 11 and he pitches in baseball.

Carolyn: Oh.

Lee: And he uses it and he started using it. He said, mom, I saw you teach it on a Tik TOK cause I saw him out there. And I was like, so now we have a routine of when he’s out there and I can tell he’s starting to get frazzled. He likes when we talk to him and I say, and I just go 10 seconds, buddy, and you’ll watch him.

He’ll go.

Carolyn: Oh.

Lee: So that’s probably my favorite practice. And you can find that on our website too.


Carolyn: I just got tingles on that, on that as well. 

Lee: it works with kids. It works so well. 

Carolyn: Oh, that’s, that’s amazing. That’s amazing. I’m going to start doing, I’m like a 10 second, like, I love it. I’m going to, I’m going to start using it 

Lee: Oh good. I’m so glad.

Carolyn: So last question, and this question is related to music and cause of music, such a way to connect, right.

And help regulate what is a favorite song or genre of music that helps you feel connected to something bigger than yourself?

Lee: There is an artist that I just found on, through TikTok. It’s Saint Finnegan, I believe.

Yeah, I can send you the link after we’re done. Maybe we can drop it.

And it is, it’s just beautiful. It’s It’s done in a way it actually has like nervous system embodiment intention behind intention, not tension behind it around the. Hertz and the decibels and, and all of


things. And so, yeah, I’ll put it on in the background sometimes when I just need

to like vibe as my family would call it and just connect into, okay, there’s, doesn’t just need to be me.

Carolyn: No, 

Lee: It’s not just me. 

Carolyn: give that nervous system a little love. The frequencies.

Lee: love Taylor Swift when I’m, depending on what mood I’m in.

And she’s a


Carolyn: a good old 

Lee: Yeah, exactly. 

Carolyn: I saw an awesome article, actually just a moment of divergence that the brilliance of Taylor Swift’s music is that she creates a sense of belonging in a very large community. And I’d never heard the Swifty nation kind of talked about like that, but you know, as a 50 plus year old woman,

there are some songs of hers that like crank that up, girl, I’m going to be dancing around.



Lee: yeah, we shake it off all the time as like

a, as a nerd, that is a trauma releasing embodiment song right there. So

I love her stuff and we were birthday buddies too. So

Carolyn: Oh, there you go. There’s that connection right there. Well, Lee I am so grateful that we have had you on the show. I really encourage listeners. Please go check out the website. Check out their work. It’s amazing stuff. And you might find me down in Ohio sooner than later.


Lee: don’t tease me.

Carolyn: Thank you so much for coming on the show and listeners. Thanks for tuning in.

Lee: Thank you.


Carolyn: Oh, I had so much fun in that conversation with Lee. You know, that one’s been on the books for a while. Lee was supposed to come on later at the end of 2023, but glad we waited. We got to hear about some of the, the programs, that great conference that’s coming up in November and really helpful to hear how her background is.

being a nurse has really informed the work that she does with leaders. And I believe at the end of the day, most, well, I can’t say all, cause there are certain leaders that I won’t mention here, but you know. big names in media that don’t really appear to care. But I do believe that most people care about the people that they’re working with.

The question becomes, how do you balance that care with getting results? And there’s a lot of things that can get in the way. I hope my conversation with Lee today gave you a few insights, a few ideas, maybe a few concepts connected in different ways, but ultimately. I hope that there’s something in there that can help you find more compassion for yourself and more insight to help you care for you first, which will help you care for the others that you work with just as much.

Thank you so much for joining us on evolve and if you can, I’d love it if you could leave us a rating and a review on the platform that you listen to us on. Thanks so much for joining. We’ll see you next time. 

EVOLVE Podcast Episodes

Lindsay Harle-Kadatz
Karin Hurt

Welcome to the Evolve community

Skip to content