Tel: +1. 772. 492. 1550 [email protected]

fearFew leaders are prepared for the extra demands of managing in a crisis. Few people have the capacity for the action focused reflection that is called for, or for the rational empathy that allows us to communicate well with our threatened clients and staff during a period of extended crisis.  This column concentrates on understanding how fear affects us, and how to react in the challenging environment we may face. It is the first sn an extended series written to help you win through.

A recession creates a climate of fear – respond by controlling reality, listening well, and involving your staff.

Confronted by possible disaster we tend to go through several stages of reaction and we should anticipate accordingly:

Fear slows down our responses and makes us cover up.

  • Don’t delay:  In crisis, we often turn a blind eye –  delay our response , we may joke about it, even deny the looming prospect of real jeopardy. During 9/11 people rang their friends, chatted around the coffee machines, in all waited for an average of 6 minutes before heading for the exits – and that average does not include those thousands who delayed too long!
  • Anticipate shock:  The second level of reaction is one of shock. In extreme circumstances we lose our ability to hear, taste, even to see clearly. That is why we need to rehearse time and time again for high stress situations such as bid presentations – actors rehearse 80 times! It is why we need to brain storm and probe future scenarios – we need to have anticipated/rehearsed how we will react to them.
  • Don’t hide: Thirdly, and this is especially true of the project focussed driven males who frequently lead professional firms, we curl up inside ourselves and “hide” our true feelings rather than openly face the impending prospect of failure. We cover up our pain with silence or with an ever more extreme braggadocio.

Fear slows down our responses and makes us cover up.

We all have profound fears. Most of us share the fear of failure. However, telling the truth as we see it, confronting the implications, sharing the burden is about being authentic; it’s about being grounded, and about having the courage and strength to be at one with ourselves and with reality. When we fail to do that we live a lie, which cuts us off from our fellow man, and increases our devastating loneliness. We start to feel hopeless and helpless, because we cannot confront who we truly are. We are in a vicious spiral of stress.

All of this matters hugely in a leadership crisis – because we should be very afraid, and because coping will be a challenge for all the team. Here are some of the attitudes to rehearse:

  • Understand the true and full picture. There will be sectors that will continue to grow. The economy remains enormous, there will be business to win.
  • Be prepared to act. This is no time for paralysis but an opportunity to outperform your competitors.
  • Balance the immediate term with the longer view. Indiscriminate slash and burn tactics are counter productive.
  • Listen, listen, and listen. Keep close to your clients, your staff, to users and to the market. Look for innovation, new opportunities – all require urgency (we are in a crisis here) but also reflection.
  • Be prepared to make leadership changes (including you!). Few leaders are equally strong as corporate builders and as corporate survivors.
  • Look out for staff especially those who become silent and solitary.
  • Involve everyone. This is a whole team effort.

Everyone else reads the papers, watches TV, they will be scared for their jobs. Silence from the leadership will almost always be interpreted as bad news. You are trying to create a company wide collaboration of self help – we are all in this together – it may be tough but we are going to get through, we are going to have fun doing it and together we are going to come up with ideas that win