When I was 17 my car broke down on the side of the Mass Pike out in the middle of nowhere. This was many long years ago before cell phones (shortly after the earth cooled – I know…) so I was pretty stuck. So of course I panicked and worried and wrung my hands which accomplished exactly nothing. And then I had a brilliant revelation…
I realized that there would be a point in the future where this immediate crisis would be over. No matter how bad the situation looked to me at the time, I knew that I would not be standing on the side of that highway forever. At some point I would be back in the kitchen of my parent’s house looking back on this moment from a safe and happy place. So from there the situation changed from “eek I’m in a bad place” to “ok how do I get from the bad place to the safe and happy place.”
Now this may seem a little silly to you right now if you’re sitting in your safe and happy place at home or at work, but when you are immersed in a crisis, all the experts say that the biggest danger is panic, and the faster you can get past the “oh sh*t” feeling and move on to the “ok let’s find a solution” mindset, the more likely you are to survive.
What does this have to do with management? Ask BP or Toyota or any of the other big companies that have found themselves recently immersed in a corporate crisis. As a manager your job is to pull your team through whatever comes your way. You need to be the one that calms the panic, stops the unproductive worrying and finger pointing and moves your team into the productive process of solving the problem.
So as silly as it seems, what works for me in that moment of initial panic is to remind myself that this will be over at some point. I don’t yet know when or how, but I do know that every crisis passes and that at some future point I will be sitting on my porch with my dog watching the sunset. Then I concentrate on getting myself and my team there.
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