How Do You Handle A Crisis?

How quickly life can turn.

That was all I was thinking as I was on the phone with my boss. Coming off one of the busiest months of my career, I was riding high. Work had flowed well, the conflict was managed in an acceptable manner, and I was ready for work to slow down a bit.

Only, it didn’t. More work flowed in, and in an effort to prove that I am reliable to the company, I agreed to all of it. Stretched thin, I allowed my gaze to fall from the prize and I let a few basic work product items slip. Of course, when asked about them, I got defensive because with all that I had taken on I didn’t feel it was right to nitpick. You can guess how that conversation went.

Crisis can test your mettle, and your desire to grow. Depending on the industry you work in, another job can easily be around the corner. So, instead of leaning into the conflict and change, it’s easy to just cut bait and possibly get yourself a raise in the process.

So what did I do?

“You never let a serious crisis go to waste. It’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” Rahm Emanuel

As the same boss once told our team, the first thing I had to do was calm down. It can be a very frantic and emotional time when your fight or flight hormones start flowing. I talked to a co-worker who could give me proper perspective, and to a fellow Agile leader who could remind me of who I really am in this trying time. In the process, a few points were made clear to help resolve times of career crisis. Shout out to Ty and Adam for being there when I needed them.

Remember that your situation is not an unfortunate accident.

Forces are always at work beyond your control, and I don’t mean supernatural. Teammates can have their own stuff going on that can be taken out on you. Business needs can change regardless of your performance, however amazing it could be. Clients or customers may (or always) act irrationally.

All of these situations, and much more, don’t really reflect any fault on your part. That said, if you take care of your own work and react gracefully you won’t really have any blowback on you.

My situation absolutely involved a couple of missteps that in the grand scheme of things were not grandiose by definition. However, it was not an mistake that my boss was calling to talk to me. I had failed to live up to my end of the bargain, and it came back to bite me. Regardless of my workload, I agreed to get stuff done. If I was faltering, I should have spoken up. Instead, I got defensive and it cause some concern.

If I was faltering, I should have spoken up. Instead, I got defensive and it caused some concern.

The hardest part of solving any problem is admitting you have one, and I forgot that very basic rule. We must look for our part in every circumstance and come clean about it. Once that happened, the conversation got much easier for me.

Migration is part of sanctification.

I heard that phrase once, but the point rings true regardless of the text of reference. We rarely improve things staying right where we are.

Getting married means getting up from your current residence and creating a new home with your spouse. Pounds can’t be lost sitting still on the couch (regardless of how many times I test this theory). Addictive behaviors must be replaced by healthier options, which often means changing your surroundings.

Why is this the best way to change? Movement is the key to learning.

Educational author Eric Jensen presented this in a 2003 article encouraging stretching and exercise to accompany sedentary teaching intervals. “Although many school districts are increasing the amount of sedentary test-prep time,” he states, “much research suggests that activity is better for students.” He went on to posit that middle-school students find school “boring” because they sit still for too long during the day.

My situation was simple. I couldn’t expect things to improve if I wasn’t willing to migrate from my current state of mind. Altering my state of mind to welcome to appreciate what real sacrifice was and trying it out.

I was just going to have to move.

There is victory in keeping promises.

Before the day ended, I made a commitment to meet with my boss in the next week with some reflective thoughts and action items. My to-do list was small in nature because once I removed the emotion and reactions from the subject matter there was not a whole lot there that needed to be done. I just needed to commit to doing them publicly and ask to be held accountable for them.

Taking emotion out and focusing on the challenge is difficult for me, because I’m just an emotional person. This helps often because I attack every item in my backlog with passion and I almost always have enough in the tank. As I was told, “nobody questions your passion, Chris.” My passion wasn’t what needed to improve though.

When facing a crisis, one of the best ways to keep your emotions in check is to make a practical list of items to check off. If only I had just successfully navigated a busy season with that approach. Beyond keeping your eye on the prize, though, making public the list of items needed to make you successful can give you the ability to be victorious when you make good on your promises.

There’s no guarantee you will do that every time, and I would not suggest keeping the bar low. We simply meet the need in the moment and live to fight another day.

So, the discussion led to me paring back my list of work priorities, but the step was necessary for me at this time. Esther Derby recently tweeted: “Pressure tends to create the appearance of striving, but seldom increases the quality of work.” I needed to decrease the amount of pressure I was putting on myself, and that was the best way.

So, I’m back to checklists and taking each day one stand up at a time. Good news is I’m not just learning this lesson for one person in one circumstance. What we learn is not just for us.

How have you handled a crisis in your life?


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