How to lead while putting out fires

“Leaders must have … an armor of confidence in facing the unknown — more than those who accept their leadership. This is partly anticipation and preparation, but it is also a very firm belief that in the stress of real-life-situations one can compose oneself in a way that permits the creative process to operate.”

-Robert K. Greenleaf in "The Servant as Leader"

It’s 9:10am and you have a meeting in 20 minutes. Two huge issues came into your email.

You punch out a few responses basically stalling until you read the other 60 unread messages. Panic strikes. You’re sure one of those 60 emails has something useful, but finding it is like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

Leaders push up against this kind of situation in two ways: the first is severe anxiety bordering on panic attacks, the second is to get quiet, get curious, and get creative.

Good News: Your Brain Is Stronger Than Your Think

There’s an area of our mind that subconsciously processes all the information available to us, and it’s so much stronger than our thinking mind. This is the area that can hold all the various decision points one can make given the (usually limited) information available. You can literally  ‘feel’ the right answer. Yes, I said ‘feel’. It’s not a conscious process and this area of your mind communicates to you through your emotions.

Get quiet

Find a place to detach from the direct impact of the situation. This will permit enough mental space to allow for creative problem solving. Create an environment devoid of distractions so you can ‘think’ and ‘feel’ at the same time.

Get curious

Ask yourself the burning question that you need an answer to. So often, we don’t know what question we’re trying to answer. Once you have the right question, write down any thoughts that come to mind for the first two minutes. (Don’t go check your email if you draw a blank for a few seconds. You and I both know your mind is constantly going.) Look deeper into those ‘blank’ spaces, you might ‘feel’ something significant. Try to translate what that feeling means and write it down.

Get creative

Once you have your list of thoughts, start piecing the puzzle together. All you have to do is move this thing forward the best way a human knows how. Remember, just because someone else is armed with an email account and the ability to rapid fire messages at you does not mean they’re getting stuff done. Leaders do their best work by being patient, remaining calm and understanding their feelings and their thoughts in order to come up with the best solution.