Leadership in Times of Crisis and the need for Self-leadership

Times of Crisis can bring out the best and the worst in people. Charles Dickens begins his Tale of Two Cities with:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

Living in a post-pandemic world with a war in Europe, it certainly feels like the worst of times, so, how do we avoid it becoming, “the winter of despair”?

Behaviors in Times of Crisis

People respond to the stress of crisis in different ways, typical behaviors that let you know that you, or someone you know, is not coping include:

  • Disbelief or Denial
  • Emotional numbness
  • Increased use of alcohol and drugs
  • Anger, moodiness, and irritability
  • Nightmares and other sleep disturbances
  • Panic attacks
  • Isolation or withdrawal from others
  • Disinterest in previous activities
  • Sleeping too much

Primed, Paralyzed, or Prepared

Why are some people more easily triggered by tough times, some just freeze whilst others are calm and rational.

The answer is that your response to external events is dependent on how well you influence your own thoughts, feelings, and actions, your self-leadership.

If a person is ‘Primed’ to certain situations, their response to a crisis will seem out of proportion to the events themselves. A person who is already afraid of flying (primed) is going to respond much worse to turbulence than someone who is not. If you are already a ‘germophobe’ news of a disease outbreak will send you into fits of panic.

The media often primes us into states of panic by their 24/7 on-the-hour reporting of the worst possible outcomes of any crisis. Add to this false stories and conspiracy theories and is it any wonder people are stressed?

The typical human response in the face of danger is to simply do nothing. People become Paralyzed, they freeze, as the flight-fight mechanism kicks in. This paralysis is fueled by a feeling of helplessness, of complete loss of control of one’s own actions and results.

Prepared people respond to crises in calm, rational ways because they have trained to do so. Military and medical personal follow steps and procedures to resolve problems because they have trained for and simulated similar situations before.

On each commercial flight you take, your airline stewards and hostesses help you prepare for and plan your exit from a plane in the event of a water landing. What can you prepare and plan for?

Self-leadership in Times of Crisis

“Self-leadership is the practice of intentionally influencing your thinking, feeling, and actions towards your objectives” (Bryant & Kazan 2102).

Self-leadership allows us to live with personal mastery so that we are not negatively primed or paralyzed. Self-leadership starts with self-awareness and a desire to understand the current reality. The self-leader asks:

  • “What is actually happening?”
  • “What am I thinking and feeling about this?”
  • “Is what I’m thinking and feeling going to get me to my objective?”
  • “What actions can I take?”

The first question helps us to accurately assess the situation and avoid denial and helplessness. Terrible things do happen, but we always have the freedom to choose our own attitude.

The second and third questions allow us to take ownership of our thinking and feeling and 'reframe' our attitude to move towards our objective. 

The fourth question puts you in the driver’s seat of your life. There are so many actions that you can take. For example, regardless of the situation, you can:

  • Maintain a positive outlook
  • Develop existing and new relationships
  • Build your immune system by eating healthily and exercising
  • Manage your finances
  • Develop yourself or learn a new skill

This is only a short list; if you are practicing self-leadership, I’m sure you can come up with many things that you can do to ‘weather this storm’.

The important point to remember is that it is not what happens to you, but how you handle it, that determines your success in life. And, one counter-intuitive self-leadership strategy is to, ask for help. If you are struggling, it’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help, it’s a recognition of reality.

Be resilient. Realize this too shall pass and if you practice self-leadership, you will be stronger for it.

Leadership in Times of Crisis

If you are a leader in times of crisis, it is especially important that you practice self-leadership. People will look to you for direction and decisiveness. In addition, as a leader, it is important to be empathetic to the anxiety that the crisis causes for your people and equip them with self-leadership skills. 

My motivational keynote speech is titled, "Delivering Accelerated Results through Self-leadership" because leaders accelerate results when they practice self-leadership and empower others.





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