In a strong organisation, the gap in skills between leaders and regular team members is not all that large. Fortunately for most of us, quality is in abundance. What truly separates a leader from the masses is his or her capacity to respond to crises. Therefore, executives must train their brains for emergencies to ensure they maintain their standards in the face of adversity.
What is something that all champion sports teams appear to have in common? The first thing that comes to mind is that they seem to play on autopilot. Each week, they turn up and approach their opponents with confidence. They understand their game plan, have faith in the project and know their roles.
At some point in every season, their fortunes reverse. A challenger rocks up and surprises them with a different style of play. Suddenly, the all-conquering game plan appears flawed. The swaggering players look lost. In these moments of crisis, teams look to their leaders. When everyone else loses their head, the captain and coach must stay calm and come up with a new approach.
The narrative is no different in an organisational context. For 50 weeks of the year, your team members will work to their highest capacity. Selection processes are thorough, so we know that there is quality on every floor of our offices. But for 2 weeks of the year, the routine will be flipped. The conditions that your employees have come to expect will change and they will have to approach their work differently. This is especially true today, where disruptions are occurring more frequently and with greater intensity. This is where you, as a leader, earn your stripes. Your capacity to respond to crises with guile to ensure your organisation’s interests are met is what makes you a leader.
The thing that truly makes a champion team (or organisation) is its ability to navigate these periods of panic; rather than allowing moments of disruption to derail its season, its leaders ensure a smooth transition back to normalcy.
They react, develop and, ultimately, prosper.
Understanding Your Brain’s Response to Panic
You can only change your natural reaction to an emergency once you understand the internal mechanics of your brain. In very basic terms put by Dr Paul Gibson, the parts of your brain that are responsible for higher-order thinking can be taken over by the emotional aspects of your brain when you are in a moment of panic. Your sense of reason becomes hijacked by emotion, so things that appear rational to you are anything but.
This is something we are all vulnerable to. How many times have you looked back on a rushed decision and wondered what on earth you were thinking? It’s completely normal to be irrational during a crisis.
The most important thing that executives can do is teach themselves to stay calm. Dr Gibson recalls the landing of US Airways Flight 1549 by Captain Chesley Sullenberger and notes how calm the captain’s communications with air traffic control were during this period of immense panic.
Preparing for Calm
Kim Green suggests that the pivotal element in maintaining a level head is preparation. She doesn’t mean this in a loose sense; she encourages executives to prepare checklists outlining the first few steps to take in a crisis.
Now, you might think that this idea is flawed. How can you ever prepare for a disruption that you don’t even know the details of? Of course, you can’t map out your response to a crisis step-by-step before it happens. But what you can do is plan your generic initial response. This will help you clear your head and, most importantly, help calm your team members down. If they see their leader calm and untroubled, they will feel less panicked and, therefore, more equipped to respond rationally.
Human beings crave routine. Having a checklist delivers just that. It will calm your entire organisation down.
Leaders live and die by their responses to disruption. In those moments where your team looks to you for a level head and guidance, you must be able to deliver. If you don’t, the panic will spread and your organisation will suffer. You will, rightfully, be blamed. It’s just the nature of the job. The buck stops with you.
A key skill in any executive’s repertoire is adaptation. That means responding to changes quickly and effectively. To equip yourself to make the most rational decisions possible, you must remain calm.
When everyone around you is looking for a leader, you must be the one who fits that image.