Overcome your crisis mindset with techniques from the Positive Leadership toolbox.
Déjà vu. When I am talking to clients, business partners, friends, and family these days, it really does feel like a repeat of Q1 in 2009. Back then, revenues in my Financial Media Business nose-dived and I remember my chest tightening, my heart pumping, and my head spinning when looking at the numbers: This all doesn’t add up anymore ….
Leading yourself, leading a team, and leading an organisation in ‘normal’ times is already challenging enough, and often leaders fail at this task. Looking at developments like the mental health crisis, an employment engagement crisis, climate crisis, and various humanitarian crises, a new kind of leadership is needed. (Please see our articles about these topics here.)
Back in 2009, as a Financial Media Business we were one of the first businesses that felt the impact of the financial crisis. I was confronted with unprecedented challenges and uncertainty. Now we are all dealing with a pandemic and its consequences, with uncertainty and new challenges that impact everyone and all elements of our societies. No one remains untouched. This creates in us a crisis mindset. This mindset, fuelled by negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, and stress, triggers two clear sets of deficit-based behaviours:
Faced with adversity and fuelled by negative emotions, we take rapid action to secure our immediate survival: hoarding food and other personal necessities, cancelling contracts, stopping payments, and laying off employees.
Decisions are made in this phase where there is a lack of information. Consequently, we jump to quick conclusions, relying on our mental models guided by biases that heavily influence these decisions.
If we consider the impact of negative emotions on our physiology – a reduced flow of blood to the brain, a narrowing of our eyesight, and reduction in what we hear – then we can understand how this affects the way we absorb information, process it, and arrive at a decision. We fail to create a mindset that enables us to gain perspective.
After the initial survival reactions, we move into preservation mode: holding on to what is still there, longing for the past, adapting a zero-risk mentality, and just trying to keep it going with a steady hand.
The challenge with that mode is you only exist - you create the illusion of preservation but in reality, by failing to evolve and move forward, you are setting the conditions for your eventual failure.
We want to overcome this crisis mindset and move into an asset-based, open mindset to allow us to see and make use of Opportunities.
I remember clearly how I went through the same stages back in 2009. First, quickly scrambling to save the business, making quick decisions, then holding on to what there still was. At the end of 2009, I launched a new finance magazine in the UK, which many might say was a great opportunity. The new magazine worked well, but in hindsight the real opportunity would have been to strategically re-position the former cash-cow publication that never bounced back after the crisis and eventually became a drag on the company’s finances. I sold my shares in that business in 2015 and co-founded Serrano 99, specialised in Positive Leadership and Positive Organisational Development.
Opportunities & Crisis Response
Seeing Opportunities in a crisis is not easy and it requires developing some new leadership capacities that address the relationship between emotions – mindset – behaviours as well as tools of self-awareness and how to positively interact with others.
The good news is that we already know and have proven how this can be done. Over the past four years, we developed and deployed a series of Positive Leadership Modules for UNICEF and their partners, dealing with the Emergency Refugee situation in Lebanon. They aim to give youth and young adults a new, positive outlook and tools during this crisis. With 3 Modules and 200+ Certified Trainers already deployed, and 20,000+ Beneficiaries to be reached, we also run similar programmes at our corporate clients and at our collaborating universities.
During these and any other challenging times we strive to build leaders that are capable of making realistic assessments of the current and most likely future situation and identifying the positive action required. A leader will achieve this when they:
1. Gain Perspective
2. Take Control
3. Use Opportunities
For me, the 2020 crisis feels very different from that in 2009. In this crisis, as a leader who practises Positive & Mindful Leadership, I observe that my stress-levels are low, I am taking more time for decisions, and I feel comfortable sitting with the uncertainty that comes with leaving things un-decided. This approach enables me to find opportunities, just as it does for many of my Positive & Mindful Leader Peers and trainees in our programmes.