Managing a crisis (whatever your definition of that word might be) is part of the job.
Whatever you do, from time to time, there’s going to be the inevitable meltdown, catastrophe or disaster. Consequences and urgency are high, time and tempers are short, and we need a solution. Now. No; like, right now.
How we react in a crisis is a great barometer of leadership – and a great opportunity to stand-out from those around you. So:
- How do we keep our heads whilst all around us are losing theirs?
- What do we do when our team loses the plot?
- How do we stay part of the solution – as opposed to part of the problem?
Here are some brain-based thoughts …
Choose vision thinking
There are 5 levels of thinking: Vision, Planning, Detail, Problem and Drama. And when we’re engaged in Drama Thinking – well, it’s a misnomer. Because when we’re in the drama, there’s no thinking at all going on.
When we’re in the drama, our cognitive resources are much reduced, metacognition (thinking about the thinking) is very difficult, we’re defensive, error-prone, problem-focused and likely to mistake all sorts of scenarios as threats.
In short: not particularly helpful for work – especially if there’s a crisis going on.
So Job #1 is to choose the right thinking level. Take a breath and put your “Vision Thinking” hat on. What’s the goal? What do we need to achieve? Stay out of the “how” and focus on the “what”. And take your team’s thinking with you.
Focus on desired outcomes
The problem with problem thinking is that is just strengthens those circuits – and so finds more problems. Our focus turns inward as we recall all those events when similar problems occurred.
Why do we so often focus on the problem?
Because they’re certain. They’ve happened. They’re in the past and it’s less effort to recall than to invent.
Solutions, on the other hand, are in the future. They require imagination to dream-up. And they’re generally untested – and therefore uncertain. Uncertainty and new thinking – all threat states for the brain.
That’s why we shy away from solutions and run towards problems.
Your job as leader is to bring the focus to the desired outcome.
This will prime everyone’s brain to see information relevant to that solution. It also keeps us away from the problem (since we can’t be looking for solutions and problems at the same time). And a solutions focus activates more of the right side of our brains: the home of inspiration, insight and creativity – useful resources to draw upon.
Keep your feedback to yourself
Many of us jump to feedback as an opening strategy to facilitate change. But the bottom-line with feedback, constructive or otherwise, is it creates a strong threat in most people most of the time. And in our threat state, we’re defensive, narrow in our thinking and vision, and less able to access our cognitive resources.
If you have feedback, keep it to yourself – for now, at least. This takes practise. Here’s why:
- Inhibiting our thinking is a resource-intensive activity.
- Resisting the satisfying reward of finding a solution takes willpower.
- And giving the opportunity for a solution to someone else sets off all sorts of social domains important to the brain (in one fell swoop, ceding autonomy, certainty and status to the person who offers a solution).
Notice other people’s thinking
Helping others to focus on outcomes and keeping your suggestions to yourself helps to put your people in the right state of mind: a fresh, resourceful, connected state of mind to find solutions to the crisis.
The next step is to help them notice their own thinking. To reflect. And a great place to start is simply to ask about the solution and their reflections.
- What’s the goal here, in one sentence?
- How many different strategies have we tried so far?
- What other options do you think might be worth pursuing?
- Do you think you know what we need to do to resolve this?
The goal is to focus people on their own mental processes. And get their permission to do so: requesting permission is a great way to elevate someone’s thinking by creating a non-threatening space.
Stay out of the detail
The final piece is to keep yourself and your team out of the detail whilst those deeper insights and ideas are coming through.
That’s not the default approach. Ordinarily, we want to break it all down and get right into the detail of it. And by all means: charge with the energy that comes with insight and breakthrough – when the time is right. That’s once we’ve shaped the solution. Otherwise:
Whilst we’re in vision thinking, stay there. Don’t get lost in the detail.
Moments of clarity when we need them most
At a moment of crisis, it is so easy for the thinking to become clouded – just when we could do with the exact opposite.
To help others achieve that clarity and have all their resources and resourcefulness available to them, use these brain-based strategies to help create the thinking space and generate new perspective.