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Leading Through Crisis: Are You Coping Or Leading With Courage?


{#/pub/images/LeadingThroughCrisis.jpg}Leading or Managing during times of crisis requires the ability to make tough decisions.  The question is how do you know you are making the best decisions for you and your business? It’s a falsity to think that making quick decisions under pressure is the sign of a great leader.  On the contrary, decisions we make while in crisis mode are often triggered by fear instead of sound strategy.  Stepping back and pausing under pressure a great way to ensure your decisions are sound.  So how do you pause when pressure is pushing you to make decisions now?  Here is a real case study to put it all into perspective.


Tom, a retired-CEO-now-reinvented-entrepreneur involved in a potentially highly lucrative business deal with two other partners, begins his coaching session this way:  “If we don’t get assurance of the funding of this project (Project A) in writing THIS WEEK … I’ll have to jump and move forward on (Project B).  I’ve been dragging my feet on getting the Project B proposal done…. He pauses, “Because I don’t think (Project B) will really work with his (funding source) business plan.  But if Project A doesn’t fly, I’ve gotta have something to fall back on … Project B is all we’ve got in the pipeline!”


Tom is clearly in reactionary mode … he believes he must TAKE QUICK DECISIVE and CORRECT ACTION NOW – Project A or Project B?


Self-Leadership Through Crisis:

A former CEO of several Fortune 100 companies, Tom was well trained to act quickly.  That’s what he believed made him and his companies successful.  The belief he held was “Because isn’t TAKE QUICK DECISIVE ACTION what leaders “should” do in a crisis?”


Not anymore.  It’s a more complex world today than it was 1- or 20 years ago.  I believe we have been trained to expect that leaders should act quickly and decisively.  However I have witnessed many downfalls of quick action takers of late.  Leaders who don’t have all of the information they need to make the best decision, leaders who fail to consult with a trusted team or advisor, leaders who choose to see only some of the implications of their decisions all can have devastating outcomes, not just for their own careers, but also for many others that go down with the ship.  


Instead of letting him run with it, I invited Tom to “pause” by asking him a question which would invite him to see what was driving his reaction, whether he was leading with coping or leading with courage.


I ask, “What do you have to believe to think about ditching Project A?”  Tom’s responses clearly reflect the most awful, horrendous potential  “What if’s …???” (which, by the way, haven’t happened yet) but none the less have resulted in his Lizard Brain state right here in my office.   Yup, coping.  


Now to complicate the matter for Tom.  Because of our previous sessions whereby Tom explored the offer he’d received to be a significant player in a multi-million dollar development project, I knew what he was wrestling with in between his ears.  After considering the project, Tom’s gut instinct and strong business sense saw that the development project didn’t have the right timing or ingredients that the funding party believed it did to move forward.  But it sure was tempting … especially in the face of doubt he was experiencing in the moment.  Coping also made Tom have amnesia for what he’d decided about Project B in a previous session, so I was curious about why it had jumped back on the table, so I asked him, what has changed or how are you willing to adjust your beliefs to ‘make’ Project B work now?”


Then I got “the Look.”  I know the Look … it’s another way to say, “Yes, you’re right …” although my job isn’t to be right, my job is to help you think …. To pause before reacting … also to help you remember what your core values are and to be sure you are acting in alignment with them.


Here’s the problem:  As I see it, Tom is motivated by being pushed from behind, from fear.  Not in control … a victim of circumstance.  He’s making decisions from a position of powerlessness.  Not good given where he’s come from and I don’t want to be on the sidelines watching as he loses everything – including his family.


Once we unpacked the “B.S.” ( or Belief System), Tom realizes a decision to ditch Project A out of fear means he is willing to minimize his newly identified family values and definition of work/life balance (which has been the key to pulling himself out of a deep depression back into the game over the past 12 months).


In order to go from Leading from coping (reaction, fear) to leading from courage (confidence to take action that is in alignment with what’s most important for Tom to have in his life and work) he must “step back to lead forward” especially in what he perceives to be a crisis.


In Kevin Cashman’s latest book “The Pause Principle” he describes the value of pausing, thinking, feeling and reflecting in conversations with others as the key strategies for leaders to make exceptional decisions and for extraordinary leadership effectiveness.  And pausing is a practice to use not just in crisis, but in everyday situations, in both your personal and professional life.


Here are a few “Pause Practices” my executive coaching clients (and their teams) have put into place with extraordinary results in their sense of satisfaction, creativity, group cohesion and productivity:


5 “Pause Practices” To Help Ensure Decisions & Values Align

  1. Take 5 minutes a day to reflect on an upcoming decision “What and who do I need to consider when making this decision?”  “Does this decision need to be made immediately or in the next 24 hours?”  “Who else needs to be involved?”


  2. Daily physical exercise, even several 5 minute walks throughout the day will help open the door for an “Aha!” moment you can’t get sitting at your desk, staring at your computer.  Walking will also get your vital systems going:  immune system, digestive system, circulatory system, cognitive/brain functions, etc.  Stagnant is bad.  Movement is good.


  3. Strenuous aerobic exercise 3 – 5 times a week.  Great stress reliever and keeps you fit (and gives your brain a break from thinking so hard all of the time).


  4. Remember playing as a kid?  Use your imagination, have fun, lose track of time, connect with friends.  Play recharges your brain, heart and spirit!


  5. Meditate for 5 to 30 minutes.  Informal mediation or formal meditative practice.  You can do it sitting, lying down, standing on your head, running, walking or however you choose.  Start with 5 minutes 3 times a week.  Use an mp3 guided mediation available on Amazon or Audible.  Put it in your schedule – make an appointment with yourself and keep it!  (PS.  If you can’t do something for 5 minutes, you have bigger problems.  Get help immediately!)


It’s time to break the Rules!  


Old rule:  When a crisis arises, work harder, push through, act quickly


New Rule:  When a crisis arises, STOP.  Breathe.  Check in with a question (or engage a mentor, coach or trusted advisor to go to for these questions) … What’s really going on?  What’s needed next?  Who will be affected by the decision?  What are my options?  What principles or values can guide me/us in making the best decision?  What other information do we need right now?


What are some Pause Practices you can implement when the next crisis arises?


{#/pub/images/Christina_Haxton.jpg}Written by Christina Haxton, MA LMFT
Speaker, Author & Executive Coach, Sustainable Leadership, Inc. Co-author, The Character-Based Leader: Instigating a leadership revolution one person at a time.  Christina assists entrepreneurs, managers and executives how to quickly build trust with their team and feel happier, highly successful and satisfied in their leadership role. Her clients learn how to use  neuroscience of emotional intelligence to make powerful team connections to become successful leaders, to achieve extraordinary peace of mind, begin to really love what they do again and have fun in the process!



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