Leadership in time of turbulence
In the present atmosphere of change and uncertainty the pressure on leaders is constantly increasing. The need to be effective in these extreme conditions can create insecurity, stress, anxiety and fear. When we perceive a threat we can have a fight, freeze or flight response, but none of these responses, stored over the ages in our neuronal circuits, can be of any help when we have to work effectively, improve our performance, inspire our staff or think “out of the box”.
Today more than ever leaders are confronted with questions with no easy answers, such as:
o How can I master my emotions and find my inner balance when the environment around me requires that I make quick decisions under pressure and in extreme circumstances?
o How can I access my creativity and my talents to produce ideas that can lead us beyond the crisis?
o How can I “read” and decode my staff’s moods and reactions, so that I can manage them effectively and keep them engaged to co-create our new future?
When the turbulence gets closer (because we experience a reduction in our financial possibilities, because our job is at risk, because the value of the money we saved and invested is decreasing), we perceive we are in danger and quite often we fall in the trap of fear. On one side, this makes us aware of the danger, preventing us from behaving in an incautious way; on the other side, it prevents us from making the right and appropriate decisions. The physiology of fear triggers a whole series of events in our body:
Focus on danger: When we are in danger, our brain ignores every information which is not useful for our survival and focuses on the cause of our fear. This prevents us from seeing our situation from a neutral point of view and makes us miss possible opportunities.
Fear takes control of our body: when we perceive a danger a gland in our brain, called amygdala, takes control of our “thinking” brain and activates a process whereby our body is filled with chemical elements, such as adrenalin and cortisol. Our blood is redirected towards our limbs, so that our body has the strength to fight or fly, and we lose the capacity to be unbiased in our judgments. This automatic physiological mechanism (called “amygdala hijack”) has served our survival for millions of years, but today it activates also when there is no reason to do so.
The decision making process is conditioned: The decisions we make have a conservative aim and serve our survival (we do not assume risks, we only take into account immediate consequences and not long term impacts, we choose only those behaviors that will not worsen our crisis).
We act like victims: We may happen to feel like we are “victims” of circumstances, ineffective in front of events, and always blame the fate or the others for our negative results.
Some hints to move out of the trap of fear.
Practice relaxation and meditation: a constant relaxation and meditation activity will help your mind and your body release the physical and mental blocks provoked by stress, and maintain a better personal balance. Each day devote 15 minutes to this activity.
Practice behaving like an observer: the observer sees what is happening, both inside and outside of himself, without judging. It can be useful to ask oneself: what is actually happening? What are the short or long term consequences of this event?
Be aware of what happens inside of you: develop the capacity to recognize emotions as soon as they raise, get used to identifying the signals your body sends right before or while you feel this particular emotion. When you learn to do so you become also able to understand when fear is about to take control of you, forcing you to respond in a defensive way, and can stop this automatic response.
Develop resilience: Avoid the temptation to feel like a victim of events. Ask yourself “what am I choosing to see in this situation?”, “What opportunity is in this for me, that I cannot see yet?”, “In 10 years time, why will I be thankful for this crisis, what benefits will I realize I have obtained from it?”
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