There is an interesting method to how lions hunt gazelle.
Gazelle are much faster than lions, but the lions have created a system to catch them. Some lions chase after the gazelle and herd them in the direction of other lions who are lying in tallgrass, hiding. Once the gazelle are almost on top of them, the hiding lions stand up and roar.
The gazelle, terrified, turn around and run in the direction of the pursuing lions, which are now better able to catch and kill them, and all lions are able to feast.
If the gazelle had continued to run in the direction of the hiding lions and their roar, they would likely have been able to escape, but fear got the best of them and led to their death.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us, fear can paralyze us and prevent us from taking action. It is important to remember that in times of crisis, whether professional or personal, hesitation is fine; paralysis is not. What can you do when faced with an extraordinary situation or a crisis?
What is the reality of the situation you are in?
It is better to face the truth quickly rather than be optimistic, kid yourself or pretend everything is going to be all right quickly. You have assets and resources that you can employ; this is the time to use them. But when consulting with others, understand what their mental state is before accepting what they say at face value. After all, their advice may be colored by their fear.
Pause, don’t freeze.
Your senses may be heightened by your fear, but that doesn’t mean you should become frozen in place. Stop. Look around. Obtain useful information, not conjecture. Test your hypothesis. This is not the time for dogma. This is a time to do reconnaissance before taking action. Being frozen in place allows terror to rule your thinking, keeping you from using your senses to notice opportunities, let alone move forward. If you feel frozen, focus on your breath; take a deep breath and exhale slowly. Slowing yourself down by focusing on the breath will help you regain your senses and reduce the power of your fear.
Start talking to people.
This is a great opportunity to check in with people to see how they are. I tell people that the run-up to Christmas and New Year’s is the best time of the year to network. Almost everyone is responsive to a text or message that says, “It feels like 100 years since we were last in contact, so I thought I would just message you to see how you were.” Similarly, during this time of crisis, messaging someone and saying, “I want to see how you are doing” goes a long way toward creating a connection with someone.
Become the person who listens to others.
Your leadership can shine through by listening to people talk. You don’t have to have answers. You just have to shift their internal dialogue by listening. I have run men’s groups, both online and in person, for many years. The crux of the question I ask is simple.
“How are you doing?” I make space for them to talk.
For you as a leader in an organization, for you as a member of staff in an organization, recognize that the first step toward your team moving forward again is getting them to open up about what is going on inside. Talking will help them thaw the ice that has frozen them.
Years ago, a friend of mine had his first official role in a nonprofit we were both involved with. To honor and recognize his accomplishment, I presented him with a gift at a breakfast we had right after he came home.
Opening the box, he found a T-shirt. On the front was the word “leader.” I encouraged him to turn it over. There he discovered a target.
“Welcome to leadership,” I said. “As a leader, you will always be a target. If you’re a great leader, you will be the target of people’s hopes, dreams, even their envy. If you’re a lousy leader, you’ll be the target of people’s disappointment, apathy and blame. You can’t not be a target. You’ll always be a target.”
So, like the gazelle in our story, you are a target. You can step into your courage, go to the roar and lead, or be fearful and turn back into the jaws of criticism.
Look for feedback.
It isn’t enough to listen and lead. You need feedback as to how your efforts are affecting others, not just simply in their words but in their behaviors. For some of you, you may need to also listen to indirect forms of communication.
“That’s great. Have you considered…”
“I really like that. What about..”
Not everyone is a direct communicator. Not everyone will be as able as you are to lead. They may look to you to lead but want to influence how you lead. Sometimes, it is enough to listen and hear what they have to say and not act.
Leadership is an acquired skill that is cultivated in both difficult times and ordinary times. It will be granted to you not just based upon your words but your actions. Your fear is the bogeyman that can be scared off by feeling your fear and acting anyway.
Stepping into it and going toward it, whether you are a leader or a follower, allows you to exercise new muscles and stretch into new roles, prove yourself to yourself and others and help you grow professionally and personally.
ABOUT JEFF ALTMAN, THE BIG GAME HUNTER
Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a coach who worked in recruiting for what seems like one hundred years. He is the head coach for NoBSCoachingAdvice.com. He is the host of “The No BS Coaching Advice Podcast,” and “No BS Job Search Advice Radio.”
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