Your leadership is in a state of flow. You manage your endless emails and effectively juggle overlapping meetings. You come in early, work through lunch and take work home with you. You are in control; you are indispensable. Stress is your norm, and you thrive on it.
Then it happens. Life, divorce, chronic illness, cancer, catastrophic events, death -- everything shifts. Your focus turns to fog. Control shifts to crisis. The future turns to uncertainty. Your leadership is on pause, but leaders cannot pause. The emails still come in, the to-do list expands and the work still needs to be done, but how?
Surviving through crisis is not an automatic response. It is a practice — a mindset involving these four key elements that foster resiliency.
1. Empower others.
A wise CEO once told me, “You are not a leader unless you can leave and no one will notice.” Leaders are not the doers, they are the growers -- they know the benefits of empowering their staff.
Know your team, recognize their potential and foster the learning and abilities of each of your team members. Yes, it requires time, but the investment in people pays off exponentially. When life happens, others step forward, allowing you space to breathe, step back to deal with your new challenges and plan a path.
2. Clarify priorities.
It is so easy to get consumed by your work and your role and lose sight of your own needs. Make time for your health and well-being, mentally, physically and spiritually. Monitor your stress levels and make the time to release building tensions within your body.
Sleep is essential for reducing stress hormones and mental clarity.
Movement is a must. You don't even need to join a gym. Just get out of your chair and walk, take the stairs, park further away from the door or take your meetings on the move.
Fuel up with food that nourishes your body and mind. Plan your grocery list, prep your week's meals on weekends or join a meal service.
Lastly, make time for your spirit. Create space for morning or evening meditation, prayer and gratitude reflection.
3. Cultivate relationships.
Leadership may be lonely, but it doesn't mean that you live in isolation. You don't have to deal with and solve every problem on your own. Nor is your world only comprised of your career.
Know who to turn to by cultivating a relationship with someone you can trust, who can hear what you need to say and acknowledge all that you are feeling without judgment.
It is so easy for your work to become so all-consuming that you do not realize how little time you are spending connecting with the ones who matter most to you. Make time for your family and foster your friendships. In the end, those relationships matter most.
4. Change your response.
Understanding the relationship between emotions and feelings can assist you in navigating a crisis.
Your emotions are your body's immediate reaction to outside stimuli. They trigger a response and send that message to your brain. Your brain, in turn, interprets that message and prompts a feeling.
Crisis activates your flight-or-fight response and impacts your body on a visceral level. If you perceive a crisis as a threat, you can become trapped by feelings of fear, anger, frustration and despair. While fight and flight are your brain’s initial go-to in a crisis, they are not your only choice.
Shifting your perspective from a threat to an opportunity changes your brain’s response from barriers to possibilities. It allows your brain to move into problem-solving — to pause, breathe and consider pathways forward. It does not remove the crisis but enables you to process and provides a sense of control.
Practicing emotional choice every time you experience a negative emotional trigger trains your brain to take that pathway in any crisis.
True leadership obligates you to not just lead within the moment but lead for the future. It requires you step back, assess your patterns and practices, and create your internal and external support systems. When a crisis happens, you can freeze or begin now by developing a survivor mindset through empowering others, clarifying your priorities, building supportive relationships, and understanding, acknowledging and working with your emotions. Adopting a survivor mindset will allow you to respond to a personal crisis with support and resiliency.