The best leaders set the tone, pace and direction for their people and model the behaviors they seek to instill. That is why a crisis turns bright lights on leaders. Frightened people tend to be impetuous, acting quickly to avoid the perceived threat. They do not listen well or take time to think, for fear creates urgency.
What frightened people do hear, they question, especially if it contradicts the panicked storyline running in their own minds. Frightened people seek safety and relief.
Leaders who deal with frightened people must be skilled at naming true threats and dispelling perceived ones. They must communicate in straightforward and pragmatic terms, acknowledging the current darkness while sharing a pathway through it.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, in his first inaugural address on March 4, 1933, told Americans that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
How deftly he captured the helpless nature of fear. The nation was in the depth of The Great Depression, and people were terrified.
We are told that circumstances today are perhaps as bad, and maybe worse, than they were then. We face a global crisis in a time when opportunity and failure are neither predictable nor mutually exclusive.
Opportunity for some means failure for others and vice versa. Hasn’t that always been true?
Leaders: How have you prepared yourselves for this sort of heat and pressure?
If you have encountered challenge in the past, what did you do to overcome it?
How long did it take to recover? What help did you need? Who did you count on? How did you maintain your own equilibrium in order to help others maintain a sense of hope?
If you have not yet encountered this sort of challenge, there is nothing to fear. Be mindful of circumstances. Talk to people who have weathered similar storms. Concentrate on the skills, decisions and mindset required to succeed.
While this crisis may be more pronounced (and announced) than others we have experienced, it is by no means the end of all that is good and possible.
Beware the stories you tell yourself. Overly optimistic stories will cause you to dismiss real danger. But catastrophic stories will rob you of energy and blind you to solutions that might lie just below the surface.
Now is a good time to force yourself to slow down. Be intentional about seeing reality. Find someone who can effectively and productively challenge your assumptions.
Think clearly about the resources available to you and allocate them according to what needs to be done today to create solid opportunity tomorrow. Be aware that you are teaching others with your words, your actions and reactions, and the decisions you make.
In demonstrating leadership, you are creating the future. Embrace your work with clarity of purpose and resolute decision-making.