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PREPARING FOR UNPLANNED EVENTS

THOUGHTS

PREPARING FOR UNPLANNED EVENTS

Scott Peltin

One of the key Tignum concepts is helping our clients use their Mindset, Nutrition, Movement, and Recovery strategies to prepare to optimize their day and win their peak performances. When we do this, the first place to start this preparation is looking at their calendar and helping them prepare for the events of the day and the week. Of course this will only help with a portion of their challenges because, typically, a big part an executive's job is dealing with unplanned events. For some, this will include unplanned meetings, for others this will include an unexpected shift in priorities from the top, and yet for some others it will include dealing with a crisis that has popped up (a tainted product, an injury/death in a factory, a PR debacle, etc.). 

Interestingly enough, many of these unplanned events can be preplanned for. In the fire service, we constantly did real time drills of many "what if" situations to try to make an unplanned crisis a planned strategic event. This helped take away the element of surprise, the overflow of emotions and panic, and the probability of knee jerk, winging-it behaviors. This preparation insured a consistent, predictable, professional, and safe response to what on the outside looked like an unpredictable event. 

I remember studying a fire fatality in the US where there was a fire in an auto repair garage. The fire attack team entered through an open garage bay door but as the fire progressed, the linkage that opened the door failed and the door came slamming down. Within 30 seconds, the smoke banked to the ground making visibility impossible and the heat from the fire above became unbearable. The two firefighters on the attack line took two very different responses. The first firefighter, dropped to the ground where the visibility was the best and the heat was the lowest so she could gain control of her breathing and emotions, and assess the situation. The second firefighter panicked, jumped straight up, and ran towards what he remembered being an open door. In this panic he was overcome by heat, burned his respiratory tract, and eventually he died. The first firefighter having stayed calm, followed the hose line to the closed garage door where she banged on the door until a waiting truck company could cut an egress hole in the door. She was rescued unscathed. 

I share this story because too often we see leaders and executives get overwhelmed by a business crisis, a PR crisis, or even an internal conflict and in essence act like the second firefighter. They take a knee jerk reaction and overreact - often damaging the morale of their team, their personal reputation, or the public image of the company as a whole. This is because they don’t prepare for unplanned events. 

The mental approach we teach leaders for dealing with unexpected events is similar to what I taught firefighters and to what is used by many of the special forces. 
_The first step is to control your arousal. This requires using breathing techniques to prevent the sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system from running out of control. It requires identifying the emotions (fear, anger, anxiety, etc.) you are experiencing and purposefully dialing them back into your control.
_The second step is to reframe your self-talk to avoid thoughts and stories of drama and instead replacing them with thoughts of calmness, control, and purposeful action. 
_The third step is separating your reflexive response from the emotion (fear/panic, anger/retribution, anxiety/freezing, etc.) so you can purposefully assess the situation. Risk managers say that when dealing with a crisis you should use all of the discretionary time you have to make the best decision of the proper action to take. The worst actions are those taken quickly when there is actually time to think before you act. 
_The fourth step is purposefully choosing the best action based upon your assessment and all of the information you have available to you. Great leaders who follow the first three steps find that they have a deep well of intuitive solutions when they are calm and use the discretionary time that is available. 
_The final step is to confidently take action. This includes helping others reframe their dramatic stories and clearly communicating to them the strategy for success. 

This simple but effective approach to dealing with unplanned events requires practice. It requires mental visualization and great Sustainable High Performance habits but it pays off in a huge way. I suggest you practice this and as always, let me know what you think.