Mindful Leadership in the Crisis

Updated: Apr 13

Standing Orders for a Pandemic

I spent my Vietnam war years on a nuclear fast attack sub, much of it under the Soviet fleet, or inside their territorial waters. Part of every watch was training for sudden, unexpected and deadly emergencies.

If the wheels came off, our standing orders were: (1) Step Up, (2) Protect Yourself, (3) Protect Your People, and (4) Save the Boat.

A Shift into Emergency

Step up meant to shift your mental processing into emergency mode, right now! Leadership requirements in an emergency are way different from leading “on plan” (even if “on plan” was taking pictures of the underside of a Russian Frigate, or building a fire control solution for a sub you’re in trail on.

Protect Yourself didn’t mean leading from the rear, or abdicating command - It meant making sure you’re situationally aware, thinking clearly, and (to use an analogy we’re all familiar with) “have your own emergency mask in place, before helping others.”

Protecting Our People meant whatever it takes to keep them safe - and Saving the Boat was the common objective we were all working towards.

Physical and Psychological Safety

Those standing orders are a pretty good leadership framework for dealing with the Coronavirus. We’ve had a couple of weeks now to secure ourselves and our teams physically. We’re sheltered in place, we’re socially distanced, we’re washing our hands, and we’re adapting to a new normal.

But we’re not safe yet. Our brains are still on high alert, and we’re experiencing an unprecedented threat to ourselves, our families and our livelihoods. This perceived danger, along with our deep uncertainties about the future, are producing worldwide panic, fear and anxiety.

We need to hand out effective tools for psychological safety, and we need them fast. This starts with science-based mindfulness training for our leaders and workforce. Mindfulness is the most effective intervention we have for interrupting the primitive signals of stress and anxiety from the limbic system, and re-engaging the rational thinking of the neocortex.

Mindfulness is a neural training process that quiets, calms and focuses the mind. It strengthens physical health and immunity, and reduces stress, anxiety and worry. I can’t imagine a more urgent or important investment for our leaders and workforce.

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