Keep calm and lead on
In these times of uncertainty and constant change it’s important to remain calm and resilient as a business leader. Lauren Parsons explains how. Uncertainty affects us all, particularly business leaders. You’re having to deal with the personal ramifications of ongoing uncertainty for yourself and your family, as well as the workplace responsibilities of keeping the […]
In these times of uncertainty and constant change it’s important to remain calm and resilient as a business leader. Lauren Parsons explains how.
Uncertainty affects us all, particularly business leaders. You’re having to deal with the personal ramifications of ongoing uncertainty for yourself and your family, as well as the workplace responsibilities of keeping the business afloat and supporting staff – financially, mentally and emotionally. That can be a huge weight on your shoulders.
Remember, human beings are wired with an intrinsic desire for certainty. It’s one of our six human needs (along with uncertainty, growth, significance, contribution and connection).
Your brain is constantly scanning the world looking for regular patterns, and when you don’t see them, it hits you at a visceral level because your brain interprets it as a threat to your survival. This triggers ‘fight or flight’ mode – an unfortunate survival instinct in this case, as it actually inhibits higher thinking.
I don’t explain this to cast doom and gloom, but simply to outline that when you’re facing ongoing uncertainty – such as changing Alert Levels, disrupted supply chains and constant change – it’s normal for that to impact on how you’re feeling and your ability to lead.
Right when you need to remain calm and clear-headed to make the best possible decisions, your body’s physiology is actually working against you, impairing your ability to think and respond.
You may have noticed an impact on your short-term working memory – such as walking into a room and forgeting what you went there to do – or a general inability to focus and retain details.
Your brain can only hold so much information, and research has shown that rapidly changing circumstances and ongoing anxiety can significantly reduce your ability to focus, making even the simplest tasks feel more difficult than before. This, of course, adds to your frustration and strain.
It’s reassuring, knowing that this is a normal physiological response and there’re solutions available.
The key is to shift your physiology and restore your emotional intelligence so you can function at your best. Here are six ways to do that:
1. Oscillate out of ‘fight or flight’ mode.
The most effective way to switch from the frantic ‘red zone’ (‘fight or flight’ mode) to the calm ‘blue zone’ (restore, repair and respond) is to master your breathing.
Many people have heard of diaphragmatic breathing but few people practise it effectively. Breathing is the single part of your body’s autonomic nervous system that you can influence; you can’t control how fast your hair grows or skin repairs but you can influence the way you breathe. When you do so, you instantly shift to the blue zone where you can make decisions, respond calmly, and function at your best.
It’s something top athletes and military Special Forces use prior to high pressure situations. You can use this regularly throughout the day by linking five deep breaths to a routine task, such as washing your hands. This will ensure you’re engaging your body’s relaxation response regularly throughout the day, reducing the negative effects of stress.
(To access the eight minute audio that guides you through a total body relaxation to clear the mind and relieve stress and tension by incorporating diaphragmatic breathing, visit www.bit.ly/downloadPMR)
2. Choose what you focus on.
The fastest way to flip your mindset when down in the dumps, is to focus on what you’re thankful for. There are always things to be grateful for. Your brain can’t be in two places at once, so adopting an ‘attitude of gratitude’ instantly shifts your perspective. This helps you remain a realistic optimist.
Rather than allowing your brain to dwell on all the challenges you face, instead choose to focus on the things within your control, and take action on those. Draw a circle and write down the things inside, and outside, your control. Focus your time and energy on what’s inside the circle and let go of ruminating on the rest.
3. Ring-fence daily non-negotiables.
Picture the daily rituals and routines that keep you calm and centred. Brainstorm a list of the things that lift you up, bring you joy and satisfaction and/or boost your energy. Choose your top two to three daily habits and make them non-negotiables.
Ring-fence time for those things. They are your safety harness for the rollercoaster ahead.
4. Adjust your expectations.
Often we get caught up in what are called ‘musts and horribles’. It MUST be this way, and if it’s not, it’s HORRIBLE. I must get the carpark right outside; if I don’t it’s horrible. The Alert Level must come down, if it doesn’t it’s horrible.
The challenge is that these high expectations often lead to unnecessary disappointment, anxiety and stress.
One simple language flip to help you deal with uncertainty is to catch yourself when saying “I hope…” Switch it to “I wonder…”
“I wonder whether I’ll get a good park.” “I wonder what the government will decide.”
By lowering your expectations of the things you can’t control, you reduce internal pressure and gain perspective.
5. Be open and authentic.
It’s OK to let your team know how you’re really doing. One reason mental health challenges persist is because we don’t talk about them or seek help early enough. If you can be vulnerable and share how you’re doing, your stories will encourage and give permission for other staff to share how they’re feeling as well.
Make it OK to ask “Are you OK?” and to really mean it.
You need all the answers. If someone’s facing mental distress, just listen non-judgementally and then connect them with the right sorts of personal and/or professional support.
6. Set the example.
Lastly, as a leader constantly ask yourself, what behaviours am I demonstrating, encouraging, recognising and tolerating? The way you show up matters because it speaks volumes more than you could ever say. It’s especially important when you’re busy and under pressure.
Your team don’t want lip service to well-being, where you tell them to set better boundaries, take breaks or be more active. They want to see you doing it first and setting the example – which gives them permission to do the same.
How can you encourage your team to prioritise their well-being? Are there opportunities to recognise and reinforce positive behaviour? Be clear on what you will and will not tolerate. Remember that the things you walk past are the things you condone. Leading by example has never been more important.
You’ve faced challenges before and you will again. As you show up as an authentic leader and demonstrate care and respect for your team, they will rally around you.
Remember to stay connected. We are stronger together.
Lauren Parsons is a wellbeing specialist. Visit www.LaurenParsonsWellbeing.com to learn more.