Crisis Leadership

Monday January 9, 2012

During certain types of crises, it is known that our brains slow down and become hyper-focused on the crisis that needs our attention.  I believe that is both a good thing and a bad thing.   It’s good because the crisis requires your attention but it also can be a bit unnerving, especially if you have other things that also require some of your focus.  How we handle ourselves in crisis situations speaks a lot about our leadership style.

I recently had a personal experience with one of my dogs, Lily, that highlighted what tends to happen in crisis situations.  Thankfully I haven’t been exposed to many “crises” but the other day, Lily’s back paw got caught in between the slots of a storage bench in our house and as she yanked it out, she left behind one and ½ of her toenails.  Needless to say, there was a lot of howling, yelping, and blood.  Being quite squeamish and not ever wanting to hear that type of yelp or howl coming from one of my animals, I began to go into crisis mode.  I also have been known to pass out from seeing too much blood and knew that if that happened, it would not have helped the situation.

So after a bit of frantic pacing around the kitchen, trying to slow my rapid breathing down (from the site of the blood), and trying to (unsuccessfully) get Lily to let me see her back paw, I noticed I was somewhere in between sitting down on the kitchen floor and crying and taking control of the situation.  Thankfully I took control; however, what that meant was, I had to concentrate really hard and focus away from the blood and Lily, momentarily, and onto what needed to get done.  In that particular situation, it required me to stop myself mid-pace and said “Andria FOCUS.  Call the vet.”   After calling the vet and hearing that I had to bring her immediately, I hung up the phone and had to, again, keep myself centered on the actions required (and not the blood or my whimpering dog) by saying out loud,  “Leash, towel, keys, cell phone, wallet, note for Matt.  GO”.   Off to the vet we went and the entire ride there I was extremely centered and calm and talking to Lily the whole time telling her she was going to be okay.  I wanted to soothe her as much as possible.  By that time, I had centered myself enough so that I could be calm and attentive to her (as long as I didn’t look at her injured paw).

This was obviously a very personal situation because it was my dog and she was hurt and in pain.  But, as is typical in these types of situations, everything slowed down and I became intensely focused on the blood and pain my dog was in instead of on what action needed to be taken.  Although I successfully got my dog to the vet and taken care of, it was a good reminder to me about what can happen to humans when we get in crises situations and at the same time need to take on a leadership role.

I often tell my clients that it’s okay to have a mini-meltdown in a crisis situation but it must be behind closed doors and before you have to take any sort of action or be visible to others.  Sort of like my pacing around my kitchen for one minute before I had to take control and get Lily to the vet.  Certain leadership situations (like a crisis) require us to put our emotions aside temporarily. It doesn’t mean you cannot feel emotion or even momentarily get emotional.  You can and should allow yourself to feel all of that and, then quickly get over it, focus on what actions need to be taken, and assume your confident and calming leadership role.   Center yourself in whatever way you need to so that not only can you take the required action, but also provide the calm that is often needed from a leader during a crisis.

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