Have you ever noticed that some leaders seem to take chaotic situations in stride, perhaps even thrive amid circumstances that bring other leaders to their knees? What’s the difference? Is it advance planning, a stronger team, some innate strength of character? Those things all definitely help, however the real key to leading well in the midst of a crisis is where you place your focus.
There is a natural tendency to focus on the impact of things outside of your control — often the very thing that created the crisis in the first place. Unfortunately, that approach tends to foster fear, sucks the energy out of the room, and leads to reactionary rather than thoughtful responses. I’m not suggesting you ignore the challenges before you. The ostrich approach — where you stick your head in the sand — isn’t leadership at all. I am suggesting that the way for a leader to find a positive path forward in the midst of a storm is to focus on what you do know.
Focusing on what you know — which gives you a sense of control — is one of the key factors in psychological hardiness. The other two factors of psychological hardiness are strength of commitment, and a belief that challenge leads to learning and improvement. As noted by Kouzes and Posner in The Leadership Challenge, research has shown that psychological hardiness is more important than personal constitution, health practices or social support in fostering a resistance to stress.
Leaders who focus on what they know are better able to calmly identify how they can influence the outcome of the current situation. They can help their people avoid feeling powerless in the face of the challenges before them. “What you know” gives you solid footing, and a clarity of thinking amid the noise swirling around you, that enables you to consider new approaches . . . new ways to capitalize on the skills and abilities of your organization. It allows you to go on offense, and develop a strategy that will allow your organization to succeed.
What you focus on grows in your mind. Focusing on the unknowns allows them to “scream louder” and gives them an oversized influence on you and your organization. Focusing on what you do know brings the unknowns down to size. That doesn’t mean they go away, but focusing on what you know gives you the control to walk through the unknowns rather than being swallowed up by them.
Feeling overwhelmed by the challenges before you? Maybe it’s time to shift your focus.