Maria Bolanos posed a good question to the community recently: How do you prepare yourself for crisis? She was drawing on one of
the points made in a Forbes article about maintaining “emotional fitness”.
I recall a video I saw a few years ago from the Human Performance Institute. The Institute performed an experiment to see how
people responded to the unexpected. The variable was whether the participants had trained for the “mission” as opposed to when they
had not. They sent a group of NFL football players into the Florida Everglades with the mission of running through the jungle environment to
touch the white fence at the end and run back. No problem. Big, strong, fit football players.
While they were running, curious sounds were introduced to the players along the way – scary sounds like dangerous animals. When the
football players heard the sounds, they were startled, then nervous, then downright scared. They turned around and ran back, never to
complete the mission.
A separate test was done with FBI agents, who are regularly trained to complete the mission in all circumstances. They touched the white
fence easily, disregarding the unexpected sounds.
Our mission as leaders is to “touch the white fence”, whatever that fence may be.
Creating strong character and emotional fitness is a lifelong and complex journey. Small steps and practice can help you along the
way. Here are some of my personal practices.
Visualize. Run through situations in your mind and consider how you want to show up. Whenever I sit in an exit row on an airplane,
I look around me and think about what I would do as a leader if I were in an airplane crisis. I pray that I never find
out, but that’s my simple way of practicing emotional fitness for that situation. Visualizing how you would react helps create
the reality when it’s needed.
Use the gap between stimulus and response. This is an old Steven Covey principle and it refers to the “space” you have between when
something happens and when you respond. Take advantage of that gap in time…and make it bigger if you need to. In that gap you can
consciously decide how to respond.
Most situations don’t need a response within seconds. Minutes, maybe, but unless there is a physical emergency, most business situations
give you at least some time to respond. Take advantage of that time.
Avoid drama: 99.99% of life is not dramatic. Too often in our thrill-seeking society, we see situations overdramatized in the news,
movies and television. That’s not real life. For those of you old enough to remember the OJ Simpson trial you will recall when OJ was
fleeing the police in the white SUV and the TV helicopter was following him. They televised the whole thing. It just wasn’t very interesting.
They were trying to create drama that wasn’t there.
If you’re drawn to gossip, exaggeration, excitement or drama in your personal life, tone it down professionally. Drama is the last thing
people need in the midst of crisis.
Acknowledge your fears: If you’ve got something you’re afraid of, practice getting over it by facing it. (Note: I’m not giving
psychological advice and am clearly not referring to phobias that should be handled by a professional counsellor.) For example,
if you’re afraid of public speaking, take some small steps to practice, such as volunteering to give a presentation in a small group. Or maybe
just speaking up in a meeting. You will grow more confident in the face of fear.
And last but not least - breathe. Taking deep breaths will slow you down, calm you and keep you from reacting while you consider how