Leading people through day-to-day living

by | Dec 23, 2014 | Blog | 0 comments

circus“Any idiot can face a crisis; it’s this day-to-day living that wears you out.”— Clifford Odets for his screenplay of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard

This sentiment rings especially true during the holiday season. The holidays are a time for gratitude, enjoyment and kindness to others. Yet, they also instill a competitive spirit in many of us that contributes to exhaustion.

The afflicted seem to be racing against the clock to finish shopping, card writing, decorating, end- of-quarter accounting, end-of-semester papers, year-end projects, etc.

As I juggle all of the above, including catching up on several weeks of homework for my applied neuroscience classes, I was struck by the differences leaders face in times of crises compared with day-to-day living.

When my co-author Kathryn McKee and I researched and wrote our book Leading People Through Disasters: An Action Guide for Preparing for and Dealing with the Human Side of Crises, we were motivated to help others avoid our fate. We had seen leaders close up and personal who had stumbled when faced with a fire, earthquakes, riots and the aftermath of asbestos exposure.

Back in 2005, when the field of neuroleadership was in its infancy, we interviewed a number of experts about the competencies leaders need when facing disasters.

These experts recommended three competencies that neuroscientists now know to be invaluable for leaders as well as anyone else to use in all types of situations.

These competencies are:

  • Mindfulness to be emotionally aware, be empathetic and have a keen sense of one’s own surroundings.
  • Self-awareness to be knowledgeable about your personal strengths and weaknesses and be confident that you can figure out what to do.
  • Self-control so you can regulate your emotions. When you’re in a crisis, this helps you think quickly, instill hope in others and yet remain dispassionate on the surface so you and others can act rapidly to stabilize the situation.

When faced with a crisis, individuals need to quickly overcome their own fears and shock as swiftly as possible so they can effectively lead themselves and others through the immediate difficulties.

As for coping with day-to-day living, which offers up an even broader range of challenges all too frequently, we’re often on auto-pilot. And our self-control can veer off course.

As a result, we may not stop to practice any of the proven emotional regulation tools.

For example, one tool is labeling, that is, naming the emotion or emotions you’re feeling. By identifying what you’re feeling—such as anger, anxiety, fear, guilt, happiness, joy or whatever—you’re able to increase your self-awareness.

The greater your self-awareness, the more likely you can figure out how to regulate your emotions and behavior. So when you realize you’re exhausted and feeling anxious about everything you need to do, you’re more likely to be accepting. That prevents you from lashing out at others or doing something else that you may regret later.

This self-knowledge also helps you consider ways to relieve your angst, such as deferring or delegating some of your duties, getting some exercise, or whatever works well for you.

Another helpful tip from Audrey Thomas, the lean office expert, is to remind yourself that much of the commotion around you is not of your making or concern.

The technique she learned in 2014 is that whenever she’s around other people’s drama, she takes a deep breath and tells herself: “Not my circus. Not my monkeys.” This helps her avoid getting involved or just as bad, emotionally riled up.

Happy Holidays to you, and good luck sidestepping three-ring circuses.

What works for you to stay calm and carry on throughout the day?


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