Keep Calm in a Crisis

I was recently fortunate to be invited sailing with a friend. He is an experienced sailor and raced as crew in the Fastnet amongst other events. For those of you that don’t sail, the Fastnet is a race of about 600 nautical miles offshore to the Fastnet rock and back, which is off the Southern tip of Ireland and not for the feint-hearted, yachts have gone down and people have lost their lives. It was in fact during the Fastnet that Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran lost a vessel in 1985. So, we had an experienced Skipper (captain of the yacht – person whom buck stops with!) though he did reveal that whilst he had crewed a lot, he had rarely skippered. To this day he’s the best person I know at sail trimming (making the sails most efficient at getting the maximum boat speed from the wind).

The weather was lovely; we had sailed around the Solent – nice breeze, not too lively. Skipper suggested that we had supper in Cowes and moored overnight there. Great idea, we all thought, so that’s what we did. Before one comes into a harbour or marina, it is courteous to radio the harbour-master in advance to request a berth (parking spot). Cowes was busy, being Saturday night, however as luck would have it we could raft-up alongside a yacht near the middle of the harbour. The harbour-master requested that we moor up stern (the blunt end) to wind, which is the less easy of the two options. So, we got ready for mooring; bow lines, stern lines – basically ropes to tie us to the other yacht, and fenders at the ready. I had the bow lines and my friend the stern lines, the other person on board was to fend off (from damaging either our or any other yacht) and Skipper was at the helm.

Now the tide was quite strong and the wind had picked up and neither were favourable for our manoevre, but such is life!

We were approaching the yacht with which we were to raft up at some speed and my friend and I exchanged one of ‘those’ looks which essentially says ‘ this is going to be interesting -might learn something, never done it like this before’! Moments later, Skipper said to my friend ‘Err, I’m not confident about this, can you takeover?’ Now, at this stage not only were we hurtling towards said yacht at speed, with the wind not helping but also, much like Meer cats – the heads of the family onboard said yacht were popping up looking somewhat horrified (we later learnt that they were on their second outing in newly purchased yacht – he’d been made redundant and they’d sold their house to fund a family trip – that’s another tale!). Also, a small audience had appeared! This occurred utterly at the last minute, in fact to be precise, I think about 45 seconds prior to us probably ‘T-boning’ said other vessel!

My friend is one of those people who is always calm and phenomenally so in a crisis. He took the helm, slapped the yacht into reverse, I grabbed the mooring lines and he seemingly effortlessly re-grouped us, gave one or two instructions and we moored up.

Despite the heart in mouth moment, all was well, no damage sustained – apart from perhaps mild panic attacks on the part of the family on board the other boat and momentarily our Skipper’s pride! Now, you may well be thinking what was this guy doing, however, in a moment of imminent crisis and believe me it would have been; he delegated to the best person for the job and averted a disaster.

The person he delegated to was calm, collected and acted with uncluttered thought and without panic. The situation in question was dealt with and the insurers didn’t need to be called! Now, how often does this happen in business and in life generally – particularly in the current climate? The businesses that ride the storm will be the ones that are nimble, can be flexible and change in the face of a challenge, be it a product failure, bad debt, loss of a major customer and so the list goes on. If you know your team’s (and it goes without saying your own) strengths and weaknesses then you will be able react most effectively.

As the posters from 1939, that are springing up all over the place keep informing us’ Keep calm and carry on’, if we can do this in the face of adversity – be it in a business crisis or on the verge of doing many thousands of pounds worth of damage in a harbour then fabulous!

Most people react positively when their leadership is calm, demonstrates confidence and a way ahead (most psychologists will back this up) even if underneath you know that you’re doing that elegant swan thing; calm and poised above the water line and paddling like crazy beneath and out of sight! Teams and the individuals within them, need that consistent direction, vision and honesty.

Just yesterday I was delivering a workshop on ‘ Change management’ and one of the delegates shared with the group a recent change. She had a new boss. – the sixth Senior VP !!! in as many months!! However, what she shared was that unlike previous bosses, this one was always transparent and honest. That’s not to say the other’s weren’t honest per se however in the current climate this new boss gives direction and vision and when asked a question to which he doesn’t have the answer –he says ‘I don’t know!’. He seeks to find out and looks to others in the team to find the answers too and off they go. In the current climate where uncertainty abounds and the papers seem full of allsorts of conflicting articles that all somehow or other claim to be the voice of authority – how refreshing is that!

So, if calm, collected and transparent is the way ahead, how?

Some tips;

Start with yourself – identify one thing that, if you do it now, you know will make you feel better

When your mind is turbulent, there is nothing quite like positive action. Pick one thing that you know will give you quick lift and do it. This will set you up to be in a more resourceful mood for the more challenging issues that you have to tackle. It may be a call to a mentor or good customer, or re-reading some recent good feedback.

Check your expectations

When you expect things to be a certain way, it can become a self-fulfilling a prophecy i.e. very often if you expect something to be a disaster, chances are it will be. This doesn’t mean to say that you shouldn’t wish and plan for things to turn out a certain way, but be aware that the more set in your mind you are – the less flexibility you are likely to adopt when a swift or even non-swift change is required.

Experiments are part of every successful businessman or woman’s life

When you step out of your comfort zone to create something different, it will often ultimately be more satisfying even if the journey there is a tad bumpy. Enjoy the journey! Do something different and experiment and delegate to others to do the same.

Think about and list the times when you have been calm in a crisis – this may be a business or personal situation…

If need be, do this daily, it will give you a mental boost that tells you that you’ve don’t it before and you can do it again.

List as many as you can think of.

People aren’t daft, say it like it is. “I don’t know” is okay!

The most successful negotiators are those who can keep a quiet mind, the most able problem solvers can keep a peaceful, unruffled and calm train of thought. The best communicators are calm and unflustered in mind and pose.

Within whatever confusion or crisis that may have occured, remain like the centre of the hurricane as it were, at peace and in control while the panic, whirling and frenetiscm of the things around have no power to affect you, without your permission! And of course if you don’t know the answer or solution, that’s okay! Some one else will! Try it today and tomorrow and see what transpires. …

Have great week,