When dealing with crisis or conflict, people can either react or respond. A reaction is often about control, or the lack of it, and is driven by emotion. A response, on the other hand, is driven by logic and is primarily focused on finding a solution.
Reactive leaders have a strong effect on the overall culture of an organization. When leaders react, employees become fearful as stress levels rise, and many even begin to point fingers or look for an escape route. In many ways, the workplace begins to feel like a survival-of-the-fittest environment. Managers who react quickly cause team members to reflexively react, which means that no one has time to think rationally about the situation. This destroys team synergy and stunts creativity. In the end, the team loses its efficacy, and everyone feels disempowered.
Responsive leaders, on the other hand, engender a very different dynamic in the workplace. Individuals who understand the value of teamwork strive to keep the team together during times of stress. Therefore, they stop to think about the long-term effects of their decisions before taking action. This pause often dissipates the stress of the situation and encourages all involved to breathe and think. Instead of immobilizing employees, this approach motivates them to solve problems. Team members may even work together and play off each other’s ideas to come to a truly excellent solution.
The trick to great leadership is the ability to move from a reactive to a responsive point of view. When people are overcome by emotion, reaction feels natural. Making response a habit takes time, patience, and diligence. The following tips can help:
Always have the big picture in mind.
Reaction is narrow-minded. People who react tend to think only of the immediate circumstances without considering how their actions will affect the future. But, when leaders keep their mind on the end game, they find it easier to see the big picture and respond in a way that keeps the ship on its path. Of course, seeing the big picture is not always simple or easy, but with practice leaders can develop this sort of intuition. If a leader is truly focusing on the big picture, reacting in an unproductive way becomes unthinkable. Placing blame accomplishes nothing. The logical response is to keep the team together and work collectively to find an answer.
Quickly identify the different options available.
People tend to react when they feel like they are out of options. This makes them lash out and act irrationally, often doing the first thing that comes into their head. When the pressure is on, it can become very easy to feel backed in a corner. However, it is very rare for leaders to actually have no viable choices. Leaders who have the presence of mind to remind themselves of all the options available to them give themselves room to breathe, slow down, and think. Once someone starts thinking about choices, the natural next step is to consider the consequences of each choice. With the consequences clearly outlined, leaders can then take steps toward the best solution.
Use logic to balance overwhelming emotions.
Strong emotions cause people to react. At the same time, emotions are important to making good decisions. Leaders who base their actions completely on logical thought miss the human element that is required to connect to employees and develop empathy. At the same time, unchecked emotion can result in some very poor choices. The key for successful leaders then, is to balance emotion with logic. The best decisions in any situation must be informed by both fact and feeling. Great leaders do not bury their emotions. Instead, they use logic to figure out how to respect their own emotions and those of others while continuing to act in the best interests of the organization.
Never underestimate the value of breathing.
When people feel burdened by stress, they often forget to breathe. The resulting panic often pushes them to react rather than respond. In these moments, individuals need to remember to breathe. If leaders make it a habit to focus on their breath in times of crisis, they can distract themselves long enough to think rationally and choose to respond rather than react. Breathing allows individuals to confront their assumptions and realize that they are seeing only a limited view of the situation. Even in the time required to take one breath, leaders can start to see the situation from different angles and think strategically rather than instinctually.
Pay close attention to the context of the situation.
Reactions are very rarely informed by the context of a situation. When leaders make assumptions or fail to think about a stressor empathetically, they can become shortsighted and reactive. Every story has two or more sides, and responding requires people to consider all those different points of view. Taking context into account shows concern and respect while setting a positive example for employees. Context is critical for making decisions that will serve the organization for the long run while also addressing the issue at hand.