By Lyn Turknett
Co-founder & Co-chair, Turknett Leadership Group
Not long after the pandemic began we were asked to write an article about leadership in crisis for the American Rental Association. The first “lesson” of the resulting article, Leadership Character in a Crisis – Five Lessons for Keeping Your Balance, began with the advice, start by calming yourself. Little did we know how much our ability as leaders would be tested since that time, especially our ability to handle the pressure of constant adaptation and relentless challenge. The excerpt is below.
We know how easy it is to react with anger or anxiety to pressure, and how destructive that is to our effectiveness and the effectiveness of our teams, but it’s also easy for leaders with formal power to excuse their own irritable or angry behavior just because others may not call them on it. This quote, though, attributed to both Jack Welch and Max Dupree, is important for every leader to remember – “Trust and respect take years to build, and only a moment to destroy.”
It’s easy to destroy trust when you are under pressure. Take a deep breath and calm yourself first.
Lesson One – Start By Calming Yourself
Emotional Mastery is one of the elements on the Respect side of the scale, but my but my husband and business partner, Bob, has often said that leaders need to think of it as foundational. In our research we see that leaders who say that they do a good job in Emotional Mastery – answering questions like “I can stay calm in a crisis” affirmatively – are much more likely to be rated by others as great leaders.
But how can we stay calm? We’d respond by saying: given an external situation that is horribly difficult, it is important that you don’t think in ways that exaggerate your anxiety. You need all your brain’s resources for problem solving, not catastrophizing. So how in the world do you do that? It’s never easy, but here are a few tips:
- When you catastrophize, saying things to yourself like “this is terrible” or I can’t believe this is happening,” your emotional centers will feel “required” to feel extreme negative emotions. Whatever is happening is already bad enough, so you don’t want to add your own excessive negative emotions to an already-difficult situation. Just changing the dialog in your head to something like “this is unfortunate, but I’m going to focus on problem solving” will help you calm yourself.
- Remember that you always have a choice in how you respond. Monitor your inner dialogue. Remember that you are the master of that dialogue, and you have a choice in how you respond to any situation or any thought.
- Watch the words you use very Words like “should” can often exaggerate our negative emotions. Our brain experiences the word “should” – as in “she should be more grateful” – as a demand, and when that demand doesn’t get met, the consequence is extreme negative emotion.
- Practice mindfulness. This is a great time to start a mindfulness practice. Apps like Calm and Headspace can be great. Mindfulness also helps you deal with the little voice in your head by helping you experience the thoughts from a distance – with awareness but without anxiety or agitation.
We aren’t talking here about being overly positive or unrealistic – just keeping awareness of the power we have over our own thoughts and feelings.
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