Leaders facing a crisis have to muster all their best qualities and skills, but the most important element of sustainable leadership is creating sustainable relationships. According to my practical lexicon, that includes (follow the links to find out more…) LISTENING, ENGAGING FULLY, and ASKING QUESTIONS.
But no matter what leaders do in the face of transformation, there is one big don’t: Don’t Panic!
Here are the three rules a leader can use to keep from panicking in the face of a crisis:
1. Remember, it’s all in your mind! No, not the crisis — but your RESPONSE to the crisis.
You are in control of the story you’re telling. A leader’s internal dysfunction is rarely as obvious as Scot Adam’s brilliant example. Leaders have to regulate themselves, or face the consequences of spinning out of control.
So pay attention to your story. If you find yourself telling yourself an extreme story, either a nightmarish or blissful interpretation of events, there’s a good chance you’re setting yourself up to panic. Neither story works for sustainable leadership because neither leads to solutions — they’re both a kind of self-comfort.
(I know that sounds strange — why would nightmare scenarios feel comforting? It’s all about habit. If youʻre used to motivating yourself with monsters, then thatʻs familiar, and the familiar is a great comfort.)
2. Remind yourself that you are part of a team. If youʻve done your relationship work, your team will help you come up with solutions. Turn to the team — they know whatʻs happening. (And remember, donʻt shoot the messenger!)
3. Find a way to help people understand the changes that are happening, the good ones I mean — the ones that you and your team know will help you move forward. That way, you prevent panic — yours and your followers.
Leaders are the interpreters of change. If you’re panicked, you won’t be able to do your job. You’ll sell your fears and not real possibilities. Your relationships will break down, and you will undo all the hard work you’ve done over the years. It won’t matter how authentic you are, or how clever or visionary you are.
Change is uncomfortable — for everyone. Emotions run high, stories about what’s happening twist perceptions, and teams get tense.
The “D” in leading sustainable change is “Don’t Panic.” Transformation — whether through a crisis or a planned change — means facing unexpected challenges. Few things will remain the same. The transition to a new system will take time.
This is your chance to model clear-headed assessment and action. Build on your good relationships, pay attention to your colleagues and followers, and above all, don’t panic!