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8 Tips for Leading With Courage Through Crisis

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Being calm in a crisis is a superpower of mine, but that has not always been the case. Years of practice through personal challenges combined with professional work in leadership development has helped me build skills to lead with courage through crisis.

I have created this short list of tools I’ve found helpful while navigating health challenges of my son and myself over the last several years. These lessons are adapted from various leadership theories and applied to the type of challenges that readers of The Mighty face daily.

1. Prioritize self-compassion

I’m not talking about making time for a candlelit bubble bath or putting on your own oxygen mask first – you’ve heard those tips dozens of times. I’m talking about putting a stop to the shame spiral you’re in. Right now. Your daughter’s disability is not your fault. Your son’s medical fragility is not your fault. The cancer your spouse is fighting is not your fault. Your chronic illness is not your fault. Shame and blame have no place in your life anymore. Set them free.

2. Use clear and concise communication

As Dr. Brené Brown says, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.” Ask for what you need and want from your team members – doctors, nurses, therapists, family and friends. Tell them exactly what you need – and exactly what you don’t need – so that you can successfully set and manage expectations. If your child is in the NICU and you don’t want visitors, kindly tell your people so.

Before leaving our house for six months for a bone marrow transplant, I very specifically asked my friends to help me clean and organize for one day. That helped me leave my house without worry about what was left undone.

3. Be willing to learn

Crisis provides us with unmatched opportunities to learn about ourselves and our capacities. Many medical professionals – especially great ones – are willing to help you understand the complexities you face. Your job is to be willing to learn, to be curious, and to ask questions.

4. Listen, listen, and listen again

Stephen Covey says, “Listen with the intent to respond, not with the intent to reply.” Doctors and nurses. Teachers and therapists. Everyone on your team has valuable information to share.

Listen deeply and repeat back to make sure you understand. My husband and I take notes when meeting with medical or therapeutic professionals so that we are very clear on our understanding of the conversations. Often times, what he hears and what I understand are different. Deep listening helps us to get clear on the very important information being shared between team members.

5. Create comfortable and familiar spaces

Especially when a medical crisis keeps you from home, it is advised to create spaces with familiar items – quilts, pillows, toys, books, photos. I used a company called Mixtiles to create removable wall photos with images of home, friends, family, and vacations to place around hospital rooms and walls of temporary housing. They can be removed and hung again repeatedly, allowing me to create a comfortable and beautiful space regardless of what’s happening around us.

6. Embrace vulnerability

Dr. Brown defines emotional vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” Watching a loved one suffer – or suffering yourself – is probably the most vulnerable you will ever be. I can’t think of a time more riddled with uncertainty than waiting for a diagnosis. When we open ourselves up to the possibility of being hurt through losing a loved one we also open ourselves up to the incredible power of love. Being emotionally vulnerable allows us to experience joy along with pain.

7. Plan ahead

When emergency strikes, our energy is reserved for navigating, not preparing. My house contains an emergency bag always packed with overnight essentials for the three members of my family. We have never had to use it and if we did, we would have one less thing to think about. When you’re not in crisis, think about other ways you can prepare for your specific challenges and make lists of what you can take care of in advance of an emergency. Use the calm time to prepare for chaos.

8. Don’t go it alone

We are not meant to travel this life on our own. Those that celebrate with us in moments of joy also want to support us through times of pain. Let people help you. It’s OK to need and ask for help. It’s OK to need other people. In fact, we are hardwired to need connection, love and the support of others. Trying to “go it alone” takes up more energy than we might have in a crisis. So let people bring you dinner, walk the dog, do the dishes. Let people help so you can focus on the immediate needs of you and your family.

Whatever your challenge or crisis might be, I hope you found something helpful here. Just by reading this article, you’ve given yourself a few minutes of care. Good job!

Please share tips and tools you have found helpful and let’s start a courageous conversation.

Originally published: January 18, 2021
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