don’t freak out…yet

I had a moment last night with my 9-year-old son that reminded me of one of my life mantras:

“Before freaking out, wait 5 minutes.”

He had been saving his money over the course of several months for an iTouch and it finally arrived.  At a certain point during the evening, he told me some of his friends had jailbroken their iPods and he was thinking about it also.  I didn’t really pay any attention to this idea until he had tried to jailbreak it himself and was now freaking out that his iPod wasn’t responding at all.

After fighting back the urge to ask him what he was thinking, I immediately went into troubleshooting mode.  Since problem-solving with an unglued 9-year-old isn’t really very effective, I started working on trying to determine if the thing was bricked or nothing was wrong with it.  Inside of a minute, I had it up and running without a problem.  I handed it back to my son and gave him the above advice.  Wait 5 minutes, then panic.

I have learned this lesson so many times over the years, it has become the normal first reaction for me.  I remember the exact situation when I thought to myself “I want to freak out like everyone else, but it won’t help anything.  So, I’ll wait 5 minutes and panic then.”

Most things can be worked out in 5 minutes.  I can’t think of one scenario that didn’t resolve itself or an alternative wasn’t devised within a few minutes, thereby making panic obsolete.  Either I am very forgetful, have amnesia, or this advice has been super helpful to me and the teams I lead.  The solution is less than 5 minutes away.

As a leader, people are looking to me on how they should respond.  If you want everyone to panic, then don’t wait, panic now.  In a large event setting, panic is contagious and is a very natural reaction to things not going exactly according to plan.  I once worked with someone that ran everywhere.  They looked harried and flustered all the time, running from thing to thing.  I told them:  “Walk with purpose by all means but don’t run.  Your volunteers can smell fear.”

In a high-pressure environment, panic only leads to more potentially going wrong.  During a large event when most people are already on edge, panic or an over-reaction from the leader can just send people into a tailspin.  People need to stay focused on doing good work and if the leader is freaking out, they are going to be focused on reacting to you.

How do you respond in pressure situations?

How do you lead your teams to respond?

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