5 Practical Ways to Manage Yourself and Lead More Effectively in Times of Crisis and Uncertainty

“Hey there. Yes, you on the beach wearing the red hat,” I called loudly to the nearest bystander. “Please go order me a pizza and let them know there is a male, unresponsive diver in his mid-thirties who is not breathing. Report back once you’ve placed the call.”

An unusual sounding pizza delivery order, but when I completed my Rescue Diver certification a couple months ago in my local waters (shout out: Matt’s a great instructor), “ordering a pizza” was code for “call emergency services” when we were practicing rescue simulations. Our pizza order lingo allowed us to actively practice all the steps of our simulations while making it clear to onlookers that we were training and there was no need to actually call emergency services.

A challenging and rewarding training experience, my Rescue Diver course was highly practical, bringing me through numerous realistic scuba scenarios so that I could develop situational awareness and learn crucial skills needed to prevent and manage problems and emergency situations.

It also reminded me of practical skills needed to lead more effectively when navigating crisis and uncertainty that weren’t scuba related.

Manage yourself - A scuba diver looking at her compass to navigate underwater
Me checking my air level during a dive in Costa Rica a couple years before my Rescue Diver training course.

To Effectively Manage a Crisis, You First Need to Manage Yourself

A big part of crisis management and prevention came down to managing myself so that others felt comfortable and trusted that I was competent to provide help and lead. As a rescue diver, it was incumbent upon me to make those around me as comfortable as I could and to communicate clearly (which when underwater is mostly limited to hand signals and eye contact) so they could be confident in my response.

When faced with a problem—whether it be that my dive buddy was experiencing a leg cramp and was struggling with propulsion or someone in our dive group had become unresponsive underwater—if I were to react in a way that is unstable, unpredictable, or panic-provoking, I’m only adding to the potential danger.

For a rescue diver, calmness is key to responding effectively, not reacting. The same is true of leadership, especially in times of uncertainty and crisis.

As a Leader, You Have a Responsibility to Manage Yourself When Navigating Crisis and Uncertainty

As a Trust-Centered leader, it’s incumbent upon you to make those around you feel comfortable so that they can trust you to lead and be open to your response. This doesn’t mean sugar-coating your response—navigating uncertainty and crisis often require being direct and assertive and making difficult decisions. You might not be able to make the context more comfortable in the moment of response, but you can manage yourself and your own anxiety to help put others at ease and earn their trust.

Here are five practical ways to keep calm and manage yourself so you build trust and be a more effective leader when navigating uncertainty and crisis.

Lessons from a Rescue Diver: 5 Practical Ways to Manage Yourself and Lead More Effectively in Times of Crisis and Uncertainty 


1. Acknowledge your fear and anxiety.

Feelings of anxiety and fear often accompany problems, uncertainty, and crisis—even for leaders. Naming and acknowledging these feelings when they surface can help you transform them into a compass to help you move forward. When you begin to feel fear or anxiety, say to yourself something along the lines of, “This is me feeling anxious and/or afraid. I must be about to do something that matters.”


2. Cultivate a calm demeanor.

It’s not just what you say, but how you say it – your tone of voice, facial expressions, gestures, and carriage – that matters. Your outward physical behaviour and appearance can transform how you come across to others. Pay attention to your demeanor so you can readjust as needed – taking a few breaths can be a powerful way to settle, centre, and recalibrate.


3. Be present.

Especially in times of crisis and uncertainty, it’s tempting to shift our focus to future states and worry about what might happen. However, when we do this we lose sight of the present, making it much more challenging to effectively respond to what is currently happening. Being present enables you to see possibilities in the now, consider what you want to happen, and make the decisions needed to get there. As much as possible, eliminate distractions (e.g. unnecessary notifications) so you can more readily keep your attention on the present. Taking a few breaths can also help here too.


4. Step out of the spotlight.

Trust-Centered leadership isn’t about performance or being the star on the stage with all eyes on you. It’s about being alongside your people in conversation and dialogue, listening to lead so you leverage diverse perspectives and broader insights to more effectively respond. Remind yourself that you’re not in the spotlight and, as much as possible, start with questions so you’re leading with dialogue versus talking at someone. Even in a high stakes rescue situation as a diver, we start by asking, “Are you okay?”

5. Be prepared.

As a leader, it’s not a matter of if you’ll face crisis and uncertainty, but when. Navigating uncertainty is the most important work you’ll do as a leader. While you might never know exactly what will be around the corner, preparation – from mindset, to training, to preparedness planning – can help you be less surprised by the nature of a given situation so you can more effectively respond. The readiness and awareness that comes from being prepared will also give you greater confidence to lead effectively when navigating crisis and uncertainty.

P.S. As these times of crisis and uncertainty persist, it’s more important than ever to invest in your leadership skills development. Join us for our next FREE session of Navigating Uncertainty, a practical virtual workshop that will help you level-up the skills needed to do your most important leadership work. Register now.

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