Crisis management – remain in control!

Based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Sven Gade is a leadership coach, workshop facilitator and public speaker. He holds a master’s degree in Mathematics from the University of Hamburg, Germany, and earned his designation of Professional Certified Coach (PCC) from the International Coach Federation (ICF). As the founder of LeaderTrip Coaching®, Inc., Sven Gade supports his clients to develop exceptional teams, to drive necessary change and to successfully achieve ambitious goals.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a lot of change and uncertainty. It has caused stress in multiple ways. Some people are worried about their health, others are anxious about their professional future and possible financial problems. Some struggle to get organized in the isolation of their home office, others are overwhelmed by sharing limited space with people at home, and some are just frustrated that their patterns of work are obsolete and their immediate goals are no longer achievable. 

In a crisis, many people simultaneously deal with elevated stress levels. These can persist over a long period of time. We all have our individual stories. They can be hidden beneath the surface, not visible to others. But they can quickly lead to overreactions when we interact.

Thinking matters

Whenever an event occurs, our brain first determines whether it is friendly or unfriendly, a reward or a threat. We experience thousands of thoughts every day. They trigger our pleasant or unpleasant emotions. Many of us are largely unconscious of the influence our thinking has on us, minute by minute, hour by hour. Pleasant emotions tend to broaden and build our abilities to achieve our goals. They help us to see more options and respond more creatively. We all know, for instance, how uplifting it is to receive positive feedback. Conversely, unpleasant emotions tend to narrow and limit our ability to perform at our best. Any hostile conversations you have had will most probably have illustrated that. Undoubtably, our emotions shape the decisions we make; they influence our behavior. Ultimately they determine, positively or negatively, the quality of our work and productivity.

Research has resulted in a wide number of accessible strategies that can readily be used to improve our resilience. Unfortunately, we don’t practice them often enough. We struggle to demonstrate them intentionally and consistently. Here are four essential resilience strategies. They will work both during the crisis and after it.

Know yourself

Take just three to five minutes at the end of your day to think about yourself. Write down everything that comes to mind on any topic you choose to raise your self-awareness. How did you allocate your time? How did you show up as a leader? What caused stress for you? Which emotions did you notice? How did you react? What do you want to improve? Keep your pen moving. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar, get all your thoughts down on paper. Read your notes the next day, repeat the exercise and change the questions as you like. Analyze your data and learn about your “triggers” of unpleasant emotions. Some of them are in your control, such as too much bad news, or anything related to insufficient time management. Other triggers you need to accept. Nevertheless, the better you know them, the better you’ll control your response. Look also for those things that bring joy to your life and fill you with positivity. Spend time with your loved ones, walk in nature, indulge your hobby. These are energy boosters, use them deliberately to light up your day!

Understand others

We are not good listeners! Too often we’re not paying attention to the other person. Our thoughts are floating around, but are not focused on the conversation. At other times, we don’t try to understand the other person – we are just waiting for the next-best opportunity to interrupt and share our side of their story. Make an attempt to listen empathetically to the people you talk to. Allow this little break to process what you have heard. Pay attention to the body language, try to recognize the other person’s feelings, play back the message that you received and avoid wrong conclusions. Be amazed about the depth that your dialogues reach, even if they only last a few minutes. I practiced this high level of listening with a group of experienced leaders before the coronavirus outbreak. They openly admitted that this is not how they interact with their teams. During the crisis, their ability to listen with empathy became an effective leadership tool, helping them to keep people engaged at work in a fast-changing environment.

Inspire performance

Honest and open feedback is a gift! Unfortunately, it is one that isn’t made too often. We shy away from giving constructive feedback; it is uncomfortable and can cause undesired reactions. Even top executives come up with excuses: “I don’t have time to do it,” or “I wasn’t in the right mood for it.” Their next-best alternative is “drive-by feedback”: a quick and unspecific hit followed by an immediate escape. It leaves the recipient puzzled or even humiliated. Seriously, does that motivate anybody to do things differently? Think about it. Your feedback should encourage the other person to change a behavior, in the best interest of that person – and most likely yours as well. You’d better make this a positive experience! Spend a few minutes to plan your approach. Keep in mind that difficult emotions prevent your people from performing to the best of their abilities. A superficial review of their work only adds to the stress. People look for constructive support to find a better way of working. Understand their situation and enable personal growth!

Make things happen

Teams exist to produce results! Many factors define the success of a team, handling conflicts constructively being one of them. Controversial topics need an open discussion in which everybody tries, without bias, to see the other party’s perspective. But what story do we tell ourselves in those moments? If it is “I am right, and they are wrong,” the exchange has almost no chance of working out well. How often do we see colleagues across departments fighting with one another? They seem to forget that they are part of the same organization, which needs to stand united in order to win in a competitive marketplace. Recently, leadership teams came together to define their approach of dealing with the upcoming pandemic. Team members favored different solutions as their understanding of risk varied. They were able to reach consensus after some of them recognized and admitted that their original idea was not the best. True collaboration needs relationships that work, not individual gains!

The resilient leader

Emotions are part of our human nature; they constantly come and go like ebb and flow. By tuning in to ourselves we can raise our understanding of how we think and feel. It allows us to control our response to emotions as opposed to being controlled by them. Our behavior is not part of our personality, we can learn it and make it more productive. Emotions will always be part of our professional and private lives and they can be demonstrated intelligently. Every single one of us has an impact on everyone we interact with, day in and day out. Resilient leaders know the influence they have on others. They create positive ripple effects that define the success of their teams. In times of crisis, resilient leaders are needed more than ever. You want to be one of them? It is entirely in your hands!

Published: June 2020

Image: Nina Tiefenbach for Delivered.