I received a call last week from a client who was in, as he described it, a “crisis.” The sudden and unexpected resignation of two key players on his team within two days of one another had been quickly followed by a near “mutiny” of the remainder of his team as he leaned on them to pick up the slack.
John F. Kennedy once said, “When written in Chinese, the word crisis is composed of two characters: One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.”
After only a brief conversation, I realized my first task as a coach was to help my client understand how to use this “crisis” as the basis for growth and opportunity. It would require a complete “reframing” of his situation to see the potential opportunities, possibilities, and gifts within it. However, before he could do that, he had to first find a way to stop pushing back and railing against “what was” and learn to embrace and accept the circumstances he could not change. Redirecting the energy it takes to be angry, defeated, regretful, or bitter toward the generation of new ideas, tapping in to available resources, and brainstorming possible solutions is the skill great leaders possess if they are ultimately successful in crisis.
I asked him to think of a time when unexpected circumstances had created similar feelings for him. He could easily recount several. I asked if they had ultimately worked out for him and if, looking back, he had achieved something valuable from those experiences? Yes, to both.
Interestingly, the word crisis stems from the Greek term krisis which means “decision” and is defined in the dictionary as a turning point or a condition of instability or danger leading to decisive change. Decision and decisive change. That’s what a crisis requires… decision. A decision to manage your emotions, a decision to learn from the experience, a decision to try new things. Even no decision is a decision to do nothing and my client was so far down the rabbit hole of blame and resentment, he was immobilized in his ability to make any decisions and move forward. And the longer he waited and wallowed, the worse things were getting for him.
Managing a crisis successfully requires feeling the danger without panicking, keeping a level head and positive expectation, leveraging your resources, making a decision, remaining flexible as it unfolds, and trusting in the ultimate gifts which are sometimes deeply hidden in the experience.
Bear Grylls, the world-famous, extreme-adventure star of the Discovery Channel’s Man vs. Wild show recently wrote a bestseller about his life and his harrowing adventures called Mud, Sweat and Tears. Bear describes seeing crisis looming first-hand on many occasions as he became one of the youngest men to reach the summit of Mt. Everest at the age of 23. “Looking back on my life, I can see I have never had a crisis that didn’t make me stronger.”
There are some things which can only be learned at the point of a knife or the edge of a precipice: How deep your courage runs, what you truly value, how resourceful you are, and how solid your faith and belief are in yourself and a benevolent Universe. Wouldn’t it be of great value if we could learn to exercise that calm confidence and steadfast faith going INTO a crisis rather than only realizing or remembering it in retrospect?
Crisis points are the moments which define us and form us in our lives. They are often beautiful gifts in ugly wrappers. So when you get a surprise delivery of one… don’t panic. Breathe, trust, decide. Your strength and character are forged by fires just like this one.
“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.”
~ Ambrose Redmoon