Successfully Leading People Through Crisis, Stress, Fear, Anxiety, & Chaos - Pt. 2

As a leader, you willinevitably find yourself  having to navigate your team through uncertainty, anxiety, stress, fear, and chaos. Perhaps a full-blown, real crisis. There's no secret formula or magic recipe; the fundamental principles of leadership remain the same whether through crisis or everyday routines. Here's another illustration of just such  extraordinary circumstances, and some practical application actions that you can take in any situation to help your team not just urvive, but thrive.

I find much of the current messaging on Crisis Management to be pretty predictable, traditional, and superficial ("stay in touch with your team!") and as you know if you've been involved in my Leadership Programs, I'm not a big fan of predictable, traditional, and superficial.

One of the greatest benefits and privileges of my work, however, is that I get to interact with lots of people, and I've been particularly interested recently in engaging with those who've experienced deep pain and anguish that's lasted over an extended period of time - maybe many months or even years - and have emerged from it better, stronger, and healthier. How do they do that? If we can understand it as leaders, we may have the opportunity to help our team get through this extraordinary time with less emotional damage.

Difficult circumstances will make people either stronger or weaker.

As you have no doubt become aware with your team-members - and perhaps even yourself - many people are currently experiencing various forms of anxiety, pain and almost paralyzing fear. An intriguing insight I've gained from talking with the gritty people who've survived and thrived is actually somewhat counter-intuitive regarding pain, anxiety, and fear. And it matches precisely with what happens in Navy Seal training.

The world-renowned Navy Seal Training is among the most rigorous - if not the most rigorous - survival training on the planet. It's primarily centered on an understanding of two things:

1.) The most powerful approach to managing fear, pain, anxiety, uncertainty, and stress is counter-intuitive. Instead of trying to avoid it and get away from it, Seals are trained to embrace it. Instead of hoping the pain or stress will go away, they learn to welcome it and hold fast to it. They don't run from it or long for its ending, they put their arms around it, pull it in tight, and cherish it. They know that fear, pain, and anxiety can be crippling, or they can be fuel for creativity, for action, for influence.

The Navy teaches Seal recruits to let the fear and pain do their complete work, knowing that on the other side, an entirely new person will emerge - better, stronger, faster, and smarter. Don't run from the pain and stress - embrace the present moment and all its uncertainty, anxiety, fear and pain.

Well before dawn, working on four hours sleep, recruits must immerse themselves fully-clothed in the frigid ocean, then roll around in the salty, grainy surf until they're "cold, wet, and completely sandy." They then train all day long and well into the night in those cold, wet, sandy clothes. Later, they plunge into the deep end of the training pool with full breathing apparatus on, which their instructor repeatedly tears off, forcing them to get comfortable enough with the panic and fear of being unable to breathe that they can spend a full twenty minutes under water, relaxed enough to reassemble the gear several times, kiss the bottom, and finally resurface.

The purpose of this kind of extreme training is to create mental resilience and toughness. It's designed to push recruits to the brink over and over, until they're hardened to pain, fear, anxiety, uncertainty, and stress and thus able to take on anything with confidence, regardless of the odds. It's supposed to be hard. Suffering produces endurance, endurance elevates character, character produces hope, and hope leads to creativity and energy. When we embrace anxiety, we're less likely to be paralyzed by it. The pain presents a singular opportunity.

They learn to embrace the pain.

2.) They know that the secret to not just surviving but actually thriving lies not in the body but in the mind. Cultivating mental resilience, determination, and hardiness creates an extraordinary advantage for anyone navigating high-anxiety circumstances. Seals know that the greatest danger in any stressful situation is in our thoughts - a large portion of the stress and anxiety we experience occurs in our mind.

Consequently, Seals are trained to carefully manage their thoughts. They fiercely control what thoughts they let enter their mind and develop a heightened awareness of what they let their mind dwell on. Knowing that we humans tend to move relentlessly in the direction of our dominate thoughts, they are very intentional about those thoughts. They are conscious of the inputs - news, television, books, etc. - knowing that the content of the mind is often simply a summary of the inputs we allow.

The mind is continually flowing with thoughts and images which determine our mood and attitude. Consequently, that which we dwell upon, we become. We become what we think about most often. Seal recruits are trained to manage their thoughts and resultant self-talk. They consciously visualize an extremely clear, vivid picture of success and focus on it.

They concentrate their mind on being grateful, and they recognize the importance of the achievable small objectives that lie close at hand. They understand the crucial significance of doing little things right. Seemingly inconsequential small details matter a lot. Admiral William McCraven, the former Seal commander who was in charge of the famous raid that killed Osama bin Laden offers the following simple advice: "Make your bed first thing every day!"

They learn to manage their thinking.

What's fascinating is that Navy Seal training is designed not for the super-athlete, but for the person with just average athletic ability to be able to accomplish successfully. They know that survival in difficult circumstances is not really a matter of strength or power, but of one's ability to embrace the anxiety, fear, pain, and stress, along with one's ability to manage their own thoughts. Interestingly, recruits can actually leave the program anytime - they simply have to approach the large brass bell that sits in the middle of the training compound, ring it - and walk away. But, as Admiral McCraven remarked:

“If you want to change the world, don’t ever, ever ring the bell.”

Here's a quick video on it - 4 minutes, well worth watching, and perhaps sharing with your team: