Beat the Pandemic with "One Hand on the Boat"

April 30, 2020
Beat the Pandemic with "One Hand on the Boat"

Beat the Pandemic with "One Hand on the Boat"

...So, there I was tucked into my sheltered space, waiting on a storm that was going to be the most powerful storm ever to strike the Atlantic Basin and soon it would head straight for my house. I was feeling pretty confident, a bit cozy even, thinking that I had done all I could to prepare, that I would wait this out and then it would soon be over...boy was I ever

How many times have you thought, "I’m prepared; I can handle whatever is coming?"

After all, every storm passes eventually, but at what price?

When what I call a "Category 5"-level event strikes, waiting it out may not be enough. The wide-ranging repercussions can reverberate for days, weeks, months and years to come. Most importantly, we have an opportunity to learn in the onslaught of a Category 5 situation.

Anyone who has experienced a personal or business partnership loss, business failure, financial distress, even the challenge of starting or growing a business  knows what a Cat 5 event is. And now, with the Covid-19, we are experiencing something truly global in its impact, yet this Category 5 “storm” feels very personal, too, in how it has impacted our lives. Most of us were caught unprepared for the far-reaching consequences.

In this first installment of my 7-part series, we're going to talk about the cornerstone of resilience in leadership, self and situational awareness.

I draw from my experiences as a lifelong and professional mariner, as well as weathering countless storms in life and business, to navigate businesses, boats and people to safely reach their destinations. Along the way, I’ve learned a few strategies to ensure my and my crew’s safety. The cornerstone of these is found in the rules of seamanship – everyone aboard is required to keep "one hand on the boat." It means that no matter where you are, where you want to go, or what is happening around you, you always preserve one hand for your tether.

To come through anything to thrive requires us to develop a strong sense of self, and situational, awareness. How do you know when you have mastered self-awareness? When others see you as you see yourself. And how you show up can depend on whether times are easy, stressful or, in the real test of awareness, when a situation turns catastrophic.

It's the Category 5 "storms" that really test us, and there’s no better example than during this current global pandemic where most of the world’s population is under lockdown, many of us forced out of our jobs, or doing essential work in a potentially life-threatening environment.

Humans are autonomic in our responses. We react to triggers - the stories that we tell ourselves about what is happening are often more traumatizing than the facts themselves. Indeed, without a deep understanding of these triggers, we won't know that we are creating a separate narrative about a situation. A Category 5 event, one that feels out of our control, is when we are most likely to get triggered. When we respond from there, we lose our ability to discern what is going on dispassionately and objectively to problem-solve the situation.

How did we get here in the first place?

We all have a "self-concept" made up of three components - our self-image (how we see ourselves), our ideal self (based on someone we admire most) and, most importantly, our self-esteem (based on how we were loved, criticized, accepted or rejected in childhood). We have a Self-Concept about everything – how much money we earn, how much we weigh, how successful we are. The Self-Concept acts like a thermostat set to automatic, keeping us within 10% of what is familiar. Whatever occurs in life or business, we always return to the "comfort-zone" setting of our internal thermostat.

What is the setting of your internal Self-Concept? Do you notice that every time you start to think you are getting ahead, you end up back where you were, with all-too familiar mediocre results? Do your relationships tend to take on a certain pattern? If so, there are steps you can take to dial that thermostat up and break out of these old patterns. Start by looking at past events, (or an acute situation such as the Covid-19 lockdown). What stories are you telling yourself in these times that cause you to react in certain habitual ways. A pattern will likely emerge both in the current, and in past, situations. By taking notice, you can make a different choice. Take charge and write a new narrative!

Even before the Category 5 "storm" hits, develop your mastery over self-awareness by asking people that you trust to tell you the truth about how they see you. Measure their feedback against your own perception. Do the same with your business by asking stakeholders what they think is the vision of the business, to see how closely your vision matches theirs.

Before the Cat 5 event strikes and circumstances get out of  control, we can take steps to develop resilience, first by mastering self-awareness. Keep "one hand on the boat" through any storm to come through thriving.


-Christine Perakis, author of The Resilient Leader

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