Leading and adapting in challenging times: put your own oxygen mask on first!

The first thing cabin crews tell you is that if you experience a crisis on a plane, put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others. And yet, when a crisis hits in business, how many actually follow this advice?

It can become a barrage of news, updates, e-mails, calls and general disorganisation. When I say disorganisation… I mean new unfamiliar stakeholders, new teams, patterns of working and of course those late on calls in the evening.

So how do you stay mentally, physically and emotionally charged to handle it all?

Think about the mental resilience you will need first.

Information will be flying at you from many sources and you can’t possibly give your full attention to all of it. Think about who you trust the most and why. Do they give you well thought out structured information, new ideas, solutions or a crystal-clear view on reality? Once you’ve identified these individuals make sure it’s a well balanced team and, if it isn’t, flag the weak spot. You may not be able to fill it, but at least knowing about it allows you to keep it front of mind when it comes to decision making. Doing this will help you cut through the noise.

It’s physically a marathon not a sprint…

The trouble with a crisis is that it is often very hard to determine when the end might be in sight, so it is best to consider it a marathon and not a sprint. This is why it is so important to think about your physical needs throughout. It is likely that you won’t be able to practice the very best habits but ensuring you keep some routine going is important. A daily gym session might not be possible, so try and fit in a thirty-minute home routine. Calls may come in late at night but try and fix a cut off time, allowing you to unwind and ease into your normal bedtime routine. Sleep is one of the most important aspects when conducting accurate evaluation and decision making and suffers if you have been drinking alcohol and eating too late at night.

Everyone wants a piece of me…

Emotionally any crisis will take its toll. Resilience is built up over time and experience but there are some short-term tools you can use to help.

1. Gaining perspective or reframing: this allows us to think about how the situation could be worse or viewed from a different person’s perspective. This can often shed light on positives which couldn’t be seen previously. The analogy best known for this is the glass half full.

2. Fear: writing down what you are afraid of is often a release of pressure. This is so powerful because it allows the individual to have a confidential space to go through their fears and work out how best to handle them. Ask yourself:

  • what am I most scared of?
  • If I was to talk to a friend who had this problem what would I say?
  • have I overcome challenges in the past? If I did, how did I do it and could I do the same thing again?

3. People are so negative. There is a sense of reality required in any crisis but there are also those who unnecessarily stoke the flames of anxiety. Here are some techniques to deal with them:

  • ask them to balance their thought process with a positive angle to the situation
  • distance yourself as much as you can without being unsupportive (these people may be your team members and colleagues). Putting dedicated time in means you can limit the
  • amount of exposure you have to the negativity.

4. Find a beacon of light in every day and hold onto it firmly: for some this might be imagery, an experience or a feeling. Remembering the amazing fun you had with your kids and friends on a holiday can conjure up all three and it is a reminder that a crisis will pass and the world will be different again.

5. Time for you is also important: remember to do the things you did before to relax you, such as gardening, reading or being with friends (virtually). Don’t let that go.

This is the first in a series of four articles around leading and adapting in challenging times.


This information is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. Please contact us for specific advice on your circumstances. © Shoosmiths LLP 2024.



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