The pandemic brought a wave of global uncertainties: supply chain disruptions, labor shortages, inflation, rising prices and an oncoming recession. Crisis after crisis has characterized the 2020s.
When facing so much uncertainty, it can be easy to worry about the future. That worry often then becomes doubt, which can quickly spiral into panic. And when we panic, we usually rush. But try to take a step back and think of your last rushed decision that ended up being a good one; panic is never a good foundation for making healthy decisions. Calmness, on the other hand, is the key to leading others through a crisis. Leaders who can stay calm can get their teams through anything.
The benefit of calm decision-making
Staying calm through intense situations is one of the reasons retired Marine Corps and military officers make such great police officers. After they live through such high-pressure training and life-threatening experiences, problems that seem crazy to the rest of us are much less extreme for them. Instead of panicking, they can take a controlled, more informed approach, reacting calmly.
The same goes for the corporate world. The company website goes down and everyone panics, creating hours of stress for the team. However, by slowing down and staying calm, we can better calculate who needs to be involved in restoring the website. With the right person on the job, it may be a pretty simple solution.
Lead through crisis with calmness
It may not always be easy to stay calm in the face of crisis, but executives who do can lead their team through anything. As we make our way into another round of uncertainty, here are five ways they can lean into calmness for better outcomes:
- Show your calmness. Breathe easy. Relax and show your team how to do the same. I imagine Gordon Ramsey in a kitchen of panicking chefs, smoking ovens and pots boiling over — his leadership on TV may not be conducive to keeping calm. Still, the chefs who manage to keep theirs despite his drama can survive in any kitchen. Even when things feel like they might fall apart, leaders who work to keep this calm visible will be able to slow down and make better decisions. This visible example also influences more calm decision-making from others, too.
- Know your team. Everyone has their own role, priorities and experiences that make them more or less prone to panic during times of crisis. An emergency for one team member may be regular business for another. Know who might need extra support and step in to provide advice or other efforts to keep them calm. Lean on others on the team who demonstrate calmness to serve as additional support for their colleagues.
- Learn from everyone’s past experiences. A diverse team brings together professional and personal histories that can serve as a wealth of knowledge when moving ahead into times of uncertainty and crisis. Leaders must remain transparent in their actions and open-minded, accepting great ideas from anyone on the team. Unless we talk openly about the company’s problems, we’ll end up stuck handling them ourselves. But allowing the team to offer input for solving issues will result in a wider pool of creative ideas and greater flexibility.
- Lean on support. Meet outside mentors and role models to draw out creative ways to stay nimble. I have been fortunate to have a team of high-level executives (and very close friends) who are available for me to call at any time looking for advice. They are older and wiser, with longer histories and more experience running huge organizations. This outside support lends new perspectives to my emergencies. We can make better decisions by seeing our situation in a broader context.
- Be supportive. Rather than a dictatorial approach of shouting orders down the line, I recommend being the kind of leader who will jump into the kitchen and get your hands dirty. There is a lot to handle in times of crisis — many different dishes on multiple burners. Everything needs the right temperature and dedicated attention to come out right. Your work crises are no different. When leaders get involved with helping their people assess the possibilities and determine the best approach through hard times, they see our efforts to include supporting them in our workload and work even harder to support the team in return.
When considering how to confront a crisis, I always think back to a particular quote: The devil challenges a warrior with, “You cannot withstand the storm.” The warrior replies, “I am the storm.”
This is how leaders must confront a crisis: be the storm. Take control of adversity by making the best out of it with the calm, understanding and wisdom you already have in yourself and others.