You’re probably expecting that I have some crazy story about a shopping misadventure. I don’t. Black Friday in our house has a completely different meaning. Two years ago on the day after Thanksgiving, my son stopped breathing just as we got into the emergency room of our local Children’s Hospital. We made it just inside the doors before he went from a coughing spell to an expressionless state of emptiness.
Amidst shouting and pushing from a team of doctors and nurses around me, we made our way into the trauma room. Once inside it was chaos. Some were pushing me out of the way, others were yelling at me to get him out his wheelchair, and some were shouting numerous questions at me simultaneously. What was mere seconds seemed like hours. By that point, I was shaking uncontrollably and at a complete loss for which of these commands to respond to. Suddenly one nurse quickly positioned herself directly in front of me and took control. In a steady but firm voice, she told me to get him out of his wheelchair and onto the table since I would be able to do it quicker than anyone else. It was guidance that I could immediately react to since I had done that probably a thousand times before, so that is what I did. Once I got him on the table, that team of incredible people worked purposely and diligently to save my son. Through the efforts of many, they were able to resuscitate him and we had the gift of another five and a half months with our precious boy.
Going from the intensity of caring for a medically compromised special needs child to the seemingly bland life since means that I have a lot of time to reflect on the past. I often reflect on that experience in the emergency room (especially today). What strikes me most from that day as it relates to leadership is the paralyzing sensation of chaos that crisis brings and what is needed to react with the appropriate actions. In a moment of complete disorientation, what I could only respond to was not the shouting and pushing, but an assertive and definitive tone providing clear understandable direction. I’m not sure what the official role of that nurse was, but that day, she was the leader in that room.
I acknowledge that the daily challenges and hurdles of the workplace are exponentially less significant, but there is still an important lesson to be learned from this for every day leadership. It’s a simple equation really; who do you want to follow, the confident voice of direction or those who bring additional noise to chaos? The more effective approach is obvious. As leaders, we have the responsibility to provide our teams with guidance that reflects a level of calm, confidence and assertiveness and in return brings about a call to action. This is true every day and even more true in times of crisis.
If you find that your leadership style tends to lend itself to escalating chaos instead of addressing it, then here is my rock bottom, bargain basement priced advice (since it is free) on this Black Friday. When you find yourself leading a team responding to an issue or crisis, the first and most important thing to do is stay calm. Not only is this required to think clearly, but you need to ensure your team focuses on action and is not distracted by you being chaotic. On a similar note, remember that when something isn’t a life or death scenario, don’t act like it is. Next, find your path to take control of the situation. As leaders, we need to be on the front lines of the issue, not hidden behind titles, email, a corner office or anything else that shields you from being able to lead. Be visible and be in control. Finally, the best time to fight a crisis is before it happens. Examine your team for the skills and capabilities that you need when issues arise. Know who your go to players are for certain activities so you can immediately call upon them at the right time. Build or add talents where you need them before you do. If possible, use scenario analysis to look down the road at potential issues to prepare yourself and your team to respond. The best way to predict how you’ll react is to practice and train for it.
I heard General Colin Powell once say that the trick to leadership is being in the right place at the right time. I would add that it is also having the right approach. Examining opportunities internally within ourselves where we can improve our abilities to lead effectively, will result in expressing it externally through actions, ultimately driving positive results.
Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net