Leaders who can pump up a sane adrenaline-supported response in a crisis are reassuring to followers.
Most of us turn into deer-in-headlights — we can’t help it!
We may have even seen the headlights coming, but that doesn’t change the response! Even if our paralysis is temporary, it leaves a gap. A leader’s ability to take action, to ride the adrenaline surge of crisis, means that gap is shorter and it causes less harm in the long run.
But this ability — is it chemical? is it a skill? — also has its drawbacks, because we’re not always in a crisis.
Adrenaline-fueled leaders have to be able to turn off the juice when it’s not needed, and that’s easier said than done!
For one thing, the rush and the problem solving and the praise are all addictive. Physically, our body likes to be all pumped up (even if it leads to burnout at the other end of the crisis). Mentally, we adore the quick thinking and satisfaction of solving challenges and seeing our solutions work! And it’s very hard to stop being a hero when it’s time for the inner accountant to come out.
So a lot of adrenaline leaders become seekers of the most knee-jerk sort. They look for jobs that put them in situations where their adrenaline skill is needed, and when the crisis is over, they move on. These are the “fixers,” the interim administrators, who calm the deer, minimize casualties, and move on when the crisis has mostly passed.
The ones that stay in one job face a bigger challenge. Without a crisis to fuel their heroism, they get depressed or anxious. Some really addicted crisis-lovers create a crisis to solve by over-criticizing staff, changing systems, or innovating where innovation is unnecessary.
And then thereʻs the burnout…
which we all know and hate more than a crisis! It happens because the adrenaline rush leaves us hungry for more, and too exhausted to do well unless we rest and recharge. And our capitalist culture isnʻt particularly kind to leaders who rest — we criticize presidents who take vacation and we regularly deny ourselves what we need in the name of ambition.
So a lot of adrenaline-fueled leaders burn out, and then fail, after a series of brilliant successes. The problem is developing and maintaining stamina to be effective in the humdrum days as well as the developing crisis.
Aloha leadership strategies can help leaders manage their adrenaline gifts without hurting themselves or their followers.
First, leading with aloha means being aware of the needs of the community and how your gifts can be of service. That means, with haʻahaʻa (humility), you always remember youʻre part of a herd, and when the headlights of crisis hit, you act for the good of your community. This clarity maintains a strong connection between leaders and followers, builds good relationships, and keeps the crisis in proper perspective. You may be the one to rescue the herd this time, but it could be someone else with different skills next time! With aloha, no one has to be the only hero.
Second, leading with aloha means telling the truth (oiaʻio). In a moment of crisis, you have to let people know enough about whatʻs behind the headlights to take effective action. So “truthful honesty” is about being strategically transparent with information and owning your part (and no more) in the problem and in the solution. This approach keeps trust intact, and prevents the “pedestal syndrome,” where one leader keeps too many secrets in order to hold too much power.
Third, leading with aloha means cultivating discernment over your entire career, so that when the crisis comes, you can see clearly. Ala (watchful alertness) can prevent a crisis from becoming the end of the world, and minimize damage. Itʻs also a way of making adrenaline useful in the every day — because youʻll know when you need to get pumped up, and youʻll know when itʻs OK to find a gentler solution without wearing yourself out. This quality gives aloha leaders staying power within an organization as well as helping them find sustainable solutions, not just bandaids.
Above all, living with aloha helps us find a balance in our own lives, so that we rest when we need to, fight when we have to, and lead when we have the solution.
Sure, there will always be sudden headlights announcing big and small challenges. Most leaders will get a chance to turn on the adrenaline and be a hero. Aloha leaders know when thatʻs necessary, and can do what must be done in a crisis. But they also know that when the crisis is over, itʻs time for rest, healing, celebration and a grateful appreciation of the humdrum.