3 Ways to Act during this Crisis, or in any Stressful Environment

 

We are all in the midst of a crisis we’ve never experienced before. Today’s environment is not a result of something you said or did. Today’s crisis was brought upon us by a pandemic few could’ve imagined. As with any stressful situation, you are likely in a fight or flight mode and the stress hormone cortisol is flooding your brain and body.  When this happens, you get tunnel vision, you can’t think clearly, your creativity and ability to solve problems decreases and you aren’t as good at working with others. Awareness and understanding of what’s happening, allows you to take control of how you respond to those around you – the ripples you create. Below, I outline three ways you can act during this crisis – regardless of the environment and your situation.

Many of us are anxious, uncertain and possibly a bit agitated at the current “normal” in our places of work and in our homes – which for many is the same physical space. Maybe you haven’t worked remotely before, maybe helping your kids with distance learning isn’t your forte, and just maybe, you’re in an essential role and have to be at work.

STAYING CALM is one of the best actions you can take when feeling anxious, uncertain and restless during these stormy days. Some find it easier than others to remain calm on a normally stressful day, as well as during a crisis. Regardless, the current situation requires many of us to take a few deep breaths and remember how to stay calm.  For generations, leaders and many parents have advised us to “step back, take a deep breath and relax” during stressful times – because it works. If you don’t currently practice calming techniques, now would be a great time to start.  Begin with simple breathing exercises and build from there. If you have experience with mindfulness, yoga or meditation, now is the time to lean-in to your practice. 

During crises or times of stress, you may feel helpless, powerless or like your hands are tied behind your back. Public officials and other authorities are providing necessary guidelines and restrictions that are critical for your health and wellbeing but may be challenging to your normal business or practices at home. While following these guidelines and restrictions, this is not a time to show weakness, but instead, show control.

TAKE CONTROL over the situation even in unusual times. Whether it’s decision making for your company, your team or your family, now is the time to lead. Many around you may also be scared and feeling helpless or even weak due to their circumstances. You must first, STAY CALM in order to TAKE CONTROL. Taking control requires gathering information, being collaborative and showing empathy which are extremely more difficult when in fight or flight mode. Great dialogue with others involved will allow you to have what you need to TAKE CONTROL and move forward with others beside you.

Trying times often leave you feeling like you are not able to make decisions, are out of options or don’t have a choice of how to lead your company, your teams or even your family. During this pandemic, many choices have been taken away – maybe just temporarily. Regardless, you still have responsibilities to deliver so with each choice removed, you must make a different choice of how to move forward.

EXPLORE CHOICES – Start with the choices that have been removed and explore what options you have to do things differently. Challenge the status quo and look for new ways to accomplish what can no longer be done the same as before. Take this opportunity to innovate and find more efficient ways to operate that you can continue once this crisis is over. When you are exploring your choices, remember to STAY CALM and TAKE CONTROL.  By using the techniques outlined above, you are certain to open up a world of choices to explore.

Don’t allow crisis and stressful environment to impact the way you act, respond or lead. By creating awareness and mitigation strategies, you can STAY CALM, TAKE CONTROL and EXPLORE CHOICES to lead yourself, your company, your team and your family through the most turbulent times.

 

As The Impactful Engagement Architect, I can work with you to gain deep self-awareness of your leadership behaviors, architect a plan to solve your specific leadership challenge or help you build a cohesive leadership team. I would love for you to be highly effective during this crisis and other stressful situations in the future. I can help you know when, where and how to use your ripples so you can create a productive environment by STAYING CALM, TAKING CONTROL and EXPLORING CHOICES with those who matter the most.

I invite you to join my email list where I will continue to deliver valuable leadership tips directly to your inbox.

 

What was your biggest takeaway from this post?  I’m genuinely curious and will reply to every comment below, as always.

Finally, as you were reading this you may have thought of a boss, colleague or someone in your network that would find it useful, please share it with them – I would really appreciate it.

Talking Leadership with Bobby & JJ

 

Last month, Bobby and JJ allowed me to crash their radio show and talk about how leaders create self-awareness of their ripples.  Bobby Cortez and JJ Gorena are San Antonio based consumer advocates dedicated to bringing timely local market information through the wisdom of top tier professionals in the San Antonio Metro area.

Each week, they tap into topics such as law, taxes, finance, investment, insurance, home improvement, mortgage, credit repair, the local economy, and their favorite which is real estate. It was a pleasure for them to allow me to bring in my favorite subject of ripples and leadership development.

Bobby and JJ’s goal for every show is to educate the listeners on these various timely matters that will empower listeners to use learned information by engaging them to do something that’s very positive for themselves and their families.  My goal is coaching leaders to have ripples of productive impact on their organizations, their peers, their teams and even their family and friends. 

Facilitating positive change by improving thinking…

 

As a successful business leader, you already have high expectations for your performance—and that has you pulled in so many directions that you feel more stretch than impact.

It can be different.  What if…

What if your goals were so clear, and your direction so strong, that you were surpassing your own demanding expectations? What if your professional life left you with a lot more energy—instead of less and less—to devote to your personal life?

I can help get more of the results you want—by helping you become more of who you want to be.

As I have with hundreds of leaders and executives, I will work with you to identify the behaviors that help you thrive and the behaviors that get in the way of the results you want. Actions cause ripples. My systematic approach combines best practices, science and my personal investment in helping you—all to give you a deep awareness of your behaviors, actions and the ripples (good and bad) they create.

The result? More of the ripples you want, leading to even more of the results you need.

How we’ll approach this—together

You are in the middle of things, and if you’re like most successful leaders you have little chance of a “time out” to do our work together. The good news is that all that “stuff” you’re in the middle of—your current situation—is a rich source of information and insight. We’ll begin right there.

My coaching process is a systematic, intentional blend of tested techniques, science-based insights and a personal passion for helping leaders become and deliver what they aspire to—and often beyond.

We’ll begin by EXPLORING what’s most important to you—what you truly care about and the outcomes you desire in both your professional and personal lives. We’ll make the classical distinctions between the important and the urgent, and we’ll go beyond that to determine the size of obvious priorities and the subtleties of less obvious ones.

From that foundation, we’ll DIG DEEP to create a rich awareness of the true current state. Past clients tell me that the mutual trust and respect that I earn with them allows an open, honest dialogue that fuels our discovery. I’ll also conduct confidential interviews with your stakeholders—such as peers and employees—to get insights that none of us can ever acquire on our own. Our 1:1 conversations and interviews combined will uncover very specific behaviors that are getting in the way of ultimate effectiveness—as well as the strengths that fuel our success.

The core of our collaboration is REFINING your goals and desired outcomes as well as the strategies to achieve them. Here we’ll identify new and different behaviors to practice—while continuing to get feedback from key stakeholders. Clients find that in this stage, our work begins to fuel better decision making, clearer thinking, productive behavior change and—most important—personal accountability for our behaviors and the ripples that result.

You’ll GROW into the leader you want to become as your new behaviors start working and you continue your own cycles of exploration, digging deeper, and refining. When my clients see the results of more effectiveness and positive engagement with their teams, more hard-fought professional results, and more energy to invest in their personal lives, it’s like a cocktail of neurochemicals rush through their brains—creating their own ripples of motivation and excitement to sustain their new behaviors and continue growing into the leader they aspire to be.

Experience Coaching through Partnership, Purpose, Process & Performance

 

Partnership:  Welcome to International Coaching Week 2019.  Jenny Rogers is one of the UK’s most experienced executive coaches and the author of “Coaching Skills” which is often referred to as the “Bible” on how to coach successfully.  Jenny defines coaching as “a partnership of equals whose aim is to achieve speedy, increased and sustainable effectiveness through focused learning in every aspect of the client’s life.  Coaching raises self-awareness and identifies choices.  Working to the client’s agenda, the coach and client have the sole aim of closing the gaps between potential and performance.”  I love that definition and I’m thrilled to share this profession with Jenny and so many others who are focused on raising self-awareness.  I invite you to explore your hopes, strengths, and goals—through coaching.

Purpose: Our behaviors affect us, our teams, our colleagues, our family, and our friends.  How would it feel to be more connected, focused and aligned in your professional and personal life?  What if you could raise your self-awareness to align with your true purpose and make a significant difference in how you engage with those around you?  Imagine feeling less stress and frustration; more laughs, smiles, and harmony. First, create this in your own life by becoming deeply self-aware of your behaviors and how they impact those around you.  Then identify new and different behaviors to practice and watch the ripple effect you will create. If this sounds encouraging to you, I invite you to explore coaching.

Process: Don’t let anybody tell you the coaching process is easy. It takes courage and energy to become the leader you want to be. By digging in and asking tough questions, and then answering them honestly, you’ll gain often-surprising (and sometimes frustrating) insights about your situation, your goals and the behaviors that help or hinder your effectiveness. With a coach, together, you can set a direction and define the steps to begin moving in the direction that defines an accomplished and ever-growing leader.

Performance: I’m certainly not a statistics guru so I rely on the experts. In a recent article, I read the following; the Institute of Coaching cites that over 70% of individuals who receive coaching benefited from improved work performance, relationships and more effective communication skills. They also reported that 86% of companies feel that they recouped the investment they made into coaching.  Those are odds I would bet on – don’t gamble with your effectiveness alone.  Increase your odds, deliver on your goals and improve your results – engage with a coach!

Maximum Engagement through Brain-Friendly Conversations

 

Are your interactions with your team helping them to be their best selves and deliver their best performance—every day?  

I’ve spent the last 20-plus years working with hundreds of leaders to identify the behaviors that help them thrive and the behaviors that get in the way of their leading high-performing teams and delivering the results they’re after. I’ve seen first-hand how behaviors and actions create ripples—good ripples and bad—that affect everything.

Somewhere along this journey, I began to understand the major—really major—part our brain plays in creating these ripples. 

Our brains cannot possibly process every single piece of information available to make decisions. It uses shortcuts, and especially biases from past experiences, to make quick decisions. Now, the brain helps us a lot, but not everything it does for us is helpful. To some degree we are always working against our own brain and the brains of those around us. 

If we can better understand what we now call “the social brain,” and appreciate how that brain processes our interactions, our conversations, to drive threat and reward, we can more clearly recognize the strengths and weaknesses in our own conversation styles and the conversation styles of others. Then we can make the changes needed to lead our teams toward maximum positive engagement.

How our brains are wired…

Our brains are wired to keep us away from threats or danger—like the fire-breathing dragons pictured above. Our brain is also designed to orient us toward rewards—like ice cream. In the brain, the threat response is much stronger than the reward response. You run from the fire breathing dragon, but you smile at the ice cream. 

When we have a threat response, our brain chemistry changes: we become more reactive, more shut down to new ideas, less able to process information, less perceptive, less collaborative, less creative. Simply put, we become less effective.

It turns out that physical threats or rewards are not the only things that matter. Research shows that social threats and rewards activate the same area of the brain as physical threats and rewards. 

Consider the brain’s organizing principles

These dynamics make sense when you consider the brain’s organizing principles:

  • Our brain scans for threat and reward 5 times a second.
  • This is the organizing principle of the brain: stay away from threat and move towards reward.
  • Our brains have evolved much slower than the evolution of the world; to our brain, we are still a bit of a hunter/survivor even though we actually experience far fewer physical threats than our ancestors did. Regardless, our brain still wants to keep us safe.

It’s important to understand the impact of a threat response. A threat response negatively impacts cognitive performance.

When the limbic system is overly aroused by real or perceived dangers, our alertness is heightened as the fight-or-flight response kicks in, but the threat response actually decreases wider perception, cognition, creativity and collaboration. We have a reduced ability to clearly see issues, solve problems and work with others. Unconscious behaviors are triggered, and the prefrontal cortex shuts down, so executive function is hindered.

In everyday language, this means we get tunnel vision, we can’t think as well, our creativity and ability to solve problems decreases, and we aren’t as good at working with others. A threat reaction can have big implications for performance. In short: We get dumber.

As you can imagine, it is not an even playing field. Threat is much stronger than reward. Our brains have about five times as much real estate dedicated to noticing and reacting to threat as we have for noticing and reacting to reward.

The Social Brain

Naomi Eisenberger at UCLA wanted to understand what goes on in the brain when people feel rejected by others. She designed an experiment in which volunteers played a computer game called Cyberball while having their brains scanned by a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine.

The subjects were told that two other people were playing the game with them, but it was really a computer program.

“People thought they were playing a ball-tossing game over the Internet with two other people,” Eisenberger explains. “They could see an avatar that represented themselves, and avatars for two other people. Then, about halfway through this game of catch among the three of them, the subject stopped receiving the ball and the two other supposed players threw the ball only to each other.”

Even after the subject learned that no other human players were involved, the game players spoke of feeling angry, snubbed, or judged, as if the other avatars excluded them because they didn’t like something about them.

This reaction could be traced directly to the brain’s responses.

“When people felt excluded,” Eisenberger said, “they saw activity in the dorsal portion of the anterior cingulate cortex — the neural region involved in the distressing component of pain, or what is sometimes referred to as the ‘suffering’ component of pain. Those people who felt the most rejected had the highest levels of activity in this region.”

In other words, the feeling of being excluded provoked the same sort of reaction in the brain that physical pain might cause.

Since social threats and rewards are as powerful and painful as physical ones, and since they are so much more frequent, they are the biggest threats we feel.

Consider for a moment: When someone suffers a physical injury, we expect that they might take a few days off work to recover. But if someone is humiliated in a meeting, we expect them to get on with things and get back to work, don’t we?

For you as a leader, the implication is clear: your team is not at maximum performance when in a threat state.

A Leader’s Big Opportunity

As leaders, we owe it to our teams and to ourselves to improve our own skills in these areas: get used to having coaching conversations, get used to having conversations that are developmental in nature and delivering feedback in small pieces, in collaborative, cooperative, encouraging ways. Encourage people about what they do right, what they do well. Focus on catching them doing something right and well and share your observations with them in as much detail as you would if you were correcting a mistake.  

The key is to have the conversations that will ensure people are at maximum engagement so they can be doing their very best work. We all do our best work on things we like or love to do—in areas where we can excel learn to excel. The brain gets rewarded for work we love doing. It gets rewarded for things we are good at.

Remember: the brain likes to be right.

Are the conversations you’re having, and the meetings you’re leading, brain-friendly enough to create maximum engagement?