4 Ways ‘Freaking Out’ HELPS You Lead Better During A Crisis

Oh no! It’s here — a dreaded crisis situation.

Your team missed the mark on key project deliverables and now the client is mad, deadlines are compromised and your CEO is telling you to “Fix it … NOW!” You have 60 days to turn this situation around, or else.

Or maybe the board voted to cut funding to your division, and now you’re already-tired team is expected to do significantly more with far less. Your best employees plan to start looking for new positions elsewhere. You need to lead your team through the crisis and hold your project together.

How do you do it?

It’s easy to “lead with compassion” and “mentor with patience” when your projects are successful, funding is robust, and your team is solid and humming along. But the first (and most important) choice a leader makes when the brown stuff hits the proverbial fan is whether to freak out completely or competently rise to the occasion.

Panic is normal. Feeling threatened is, too.

You’re “fight, flight or freeze” instinct will likely kick in. And I’m here to tell you — give into it!   

Am I joking? A little bit … but, only to a degree. Because your primal reactions to stress and panic can actually serve you really well in crisis … if you pause, remember to trust yourself, and reframe that panic into a smart, strategic plan of action.

So, here’s my ironic spin on how to handle your fear, stare a crisis situation down, and lead your team through it safely.

1. Just walk away 

I can’t count the number of times I’ve told an executive facing a crisis to just get up and walk out! Not permanently, obviously … just long enough to clear their head.

Science shows that pausing to go outside, take a deep breath, and walk around the office building for a bit significantly reduces stress in the body and mind. And let’s face it — when your body is hopped up on panic-induced adrenaline, you’re more inclined to make a bad knee-jerk decision that only digs the hole deeper.

Dr. William Ury, co-author of “Getting to Yes,” calls this strategic break “going to the balcony.” The point is to step outside the tension (however briefly), regather your thoughts and perspective, and not talk to anyone or make any decisions until you do.

Before you can lead your team effectively, you MUST pause and recenter yourself first. So, instead of sounding the alarm to your team that “the sky is falling,” go outside and look at the sky for a few minutes and pull yourself together.

2. Blame yourself

I’m not saying to slide down into a black hole of shame. But I am saying, part of mastering emotional intelligence is knowing when a situation warrants serious self-evaluation and reflection.

Sometimes we grow numb to unproductive and unsustainable business situations, and the crisis at hand feels like it came out of nowhere, when actually it was lying dormant for some time.

You didn’t see the true underlying issues before. That’s OK. Now you do. The real situation is staring you right in the face, ready to sink the results of your team (and possibly your career). You need to name the crisis.

Have you been losing money month after month? Have you neglected to fill critical gaps in your team, and now those who doubled up their workload feel burnt out, resentful and detached? Whether it was short-sighted planning or a shortcoming in your leadership style, have the courage to own any part you had in the creation of this crisis.

3. Do less

To resolve this crisis properly, it’s time to reschedule (or altogether scrap) the 10 different sub-projects on your plate to focus on the one that will get the benefit. This won’t be easy to make happen, as upper management and the board might descend on you like a swarm of locust demanding information and explanation.

Center yourself, and set a vision for the team that they can get behind. In terms of navigating out of this crisis, avoid multi-tasking; it’s time to get back to the basics. A simple, effective strategy is incredibly powerful! Oh, and don’t forget to ask what the team wants.

Moving forward, make sure that everyone has the same simple basic goals and stays on track. Build in “small wins” and positive milestones for your team to hit often along the way, which helps restore their confidence quickly and ups their personal investment in turning this situation around.

4. Control your team

Gently but firmly. These are the moments when people tend to run in different directions like chicken without heads, screaming bloody murder but not staying focused on the task at hand. This is entirely natural.

Just like you need to deal with the adrenaline, so does your team. So create a safe space for them to regroup, (respectfully) process their panic and emotions, and then set them back to work on the new plan. And then, stick close to them.

While micro-managing gets a bum rap in most cases, in a crisis situation you need to circle the wagons a bit. Don’t hover over their every move and slow their progress by supervising every minute step. But do keep your team close to ensure their first steps toward the new goals are in the right direction.

If weekly updates were the norm before, brief, daily updates might prove more effective while in crisis mode. Or perhaps you oversee the spreadsheet, making sure that the three most essential goals you outlined are getting worked on appropriately.

So, how do you know if you’re truly leading your team well through the crisis?

The way to self-monitor is by constantly asking yourself: What it is like to be on the other side of me?

In other words, if you had a boss like you — would you give your all, would you feel tethered to reality but inspired and ultimately safe? Or, would you quake with fear and stress every time you have to announce bad news or ask a question?

The hardest part of leading in crisis mode is keeping your own fear from leeching into your interactions with your team.

Avoid defensive, accusatory questions like: Why the [expletive] did you do that?Or: Why isn’t this [expletive] done?  … no matter how frustrated you feel. You’ll only shut your people down and trigger their knee-jerk impulse to justify their actions and/or pass off responsibility.

Instead, try questions that focus on outcomes, not the person: What happened? What might have been the root cause of that? What are the consequences? How do we get out of that situation? Who needs to talk to whom? What concrete steps can we take to contain the situation?

In the end, yes …  you might fail.

But you truly don’t have time to worry about it, because doing so will just paralyze you and the team. So, recognize that it’s normal to feel all of those panicked, stressed out feelings. And then use them to create a smart, simple plan of action and just keep moving.

You can’t control the final outcome, but you can control how you show up in the crisis. Whichever way it goes, you (and those around you) will know you truly stayed calm and gave your ALL when others would have just lost their heads.

Nathalie Salles helps global leaders and diverse teams elevate their innate excellence in order to make dynamic progress toward their specific goals, strategies, or vertical growth vision. 

This article originally published on LinkedIn.com 

Categories: Leadership, Organizational culture, Team Building, Transition

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