C-Suite Insider

How To Function From A Position Of Strength In Crisis

It appears that as America is reopening and the panic of COVID-19 is settling, there’s a residue of chaos still lingering. These are intimidating times for executives. How do you transition and move forward? The future remains uncertain, and the future of work remains undetermined.

We’ve learned from the McKinsey Report that during crisis leaders don’t need a predefined response plan, but behaviors and mindsets that will prevent them from overreacting to yesterday’s developments and help them to look ahead. So, how do you develop the behaviors to work in your favor so you can adjust, adapt, and lead in these threatening times?

As a consulting applied psychology practitioner, I tell executives before they can recognize the habits that precede breakdowns in their behavior, it’s important to understand how they’re wired.

Once these routines are identified, you can more easily develop a plan of action to alter the behavior so it can work favorably for you and towards others.

Your body and brain identify crisis as a threat and position itself to counter it. As this is occurring you can fall into several unconscious habits.

One is you go into survivor mode. This can mean behaving defensively, arrogantly, or triflingly. As adrenaline pumps into your system, your heart rate is elevated and you rush to conclusions without thinking things through.

Another habit is you automatically yield to auto-pilot mode. This can mean controlling or holding back information as a form of protection.

No matter the habit, the psychological safety across teams is put at risk, denying others the opportunity to make their own appraisals and pitch in to help. This is what happens when fear-based emotions in the brain tell you to focus only on the crisis itself.

To illustrate, if you hear that companies in your industry are closing their doors, your fight or flight mode is activated out of the need to survive. With adrenalin now pumping into your body, you feel personally threatened, concluding that your company will be shutting down next.

All the while your brain is directing you to focus only on the threat to protect your livelihood. You can’t think about how the company should operate right now because it is difficult for the logical part of the brain to engage.

In contrast, you hear that many companies are closing, but none in your industry. You don’t process this as a direct threat. In order to make that assessment, you had to invoke the logical part of our brain—the prefrontal cortex. Totally different from the fight or flight behavior triggered by fear and threat.

You can come to terms with crises through the science of flourishing.  Here are two ways to invoke the logical part of the brain while experiencing fear emotions.

Pause. Pausing helps you to become more self-aware and helps you come to terms with the anxiety that you’re facing. It also gives you the space to question your thoughts. Instead of jumping off the rail to fretful conclusions, pausing gives you time to assess the situation with three simple questions:

  1. Will the crisis last forever?
  2. Did I personally activate or cause the crisis?
  3. Will the crisis likely undermine everything else associated with me?

Now you can come to terms with the emotions you’re facing. You can take a deep breath and distance yourself from the crisis so that your logical part of the brain can engage and make sound decisions.

Stand in your strength.  Standing in a position of strength means to recognize the fearful emotions and thoughts do exist. From this position of strength, you can invite logic to the table so you can see the situation from a clearer perspective. As a result of that, you’re able to function from a position of power. You can fully engage in behaviors that you can be proud of, fostering transparency and collaboration with colleagues. You will emerge from a more responsible position when you enable others to discover and implement solutions. Your better version self will cause you to feel better about yourself. And when you feel better about yourself, you will function more effectively.

The next time you’re faced with a crisis, have the courage to try out behaviors in opposition to your habits. Get a conscious handle on things to establish the leader you want to be in the situation. Focus on your responsibility to function from a position of personal strength.

Written by Dr. Deana Murphy. Here’s what you’ve missed?
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Deana Murphy, Ph.D.
Deana Murphy is author of The Lead2Flourish Effect (2021), a leadership performance strategist, applied psychology practitioner and a CEO-executive coach specializing in executive performance wellbeing. Deana Murphy is founder of DecisionLab Global and an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow her on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.