As I wrote in my previous article “How To Optimize The Brain’s Response To Change,” life is about change and today its quality depends on our ability to effectively adapt to unpredictably changing circumstances. And in order to survive, we must change how we think about the challenges — both real and artificial — that are imposed on us.

The key goal of a human brain is survival. Fear is often key to survival, triggered by a real or perceived threat. However, the brain does not know the difference between an actual threat and the thought of it. That’s how complex and powerful the human brain is. It can deceive us, tricking us into believing what we hear and see as if it were true. This biological reaction activates the exact same part of the brain that is responsible for the fight or flight response — regardless of whether or not we are faced with an actual life-threatening situation.

Now, amongst all the possible fears humans can experience, we are born only with two – the fear of loud noise and falling — the rest is learned from our experiences. Furthermore, the human brain loves to predict what’s coming, so the more possible dangerous situations it can imagine, the better prepared it is to survive.

In the era of information overload, ignorance becomes a choice. We ought to choose wisely what kind of information we subscribe to though. When we live in a state of prolonged fear — real or perceived — we become incapacitated. We make inaccurate decisions and create a ripple effect of ineffectiveness far more reaching than the threat itself. Yet, how to choose intelligently when our mind is constantly bombarded with the news that not only engage already installed negative thought processes but also activate substances in the amygdala region of the brain that make us more vigilant to notice the danger?

How To Lead Effectively Amidst Fear And Chaos

Almost always, when faced with stressful situations, we tend to either freeze in inaction or try to implement all possible solutions at once, causing more harm than good. In today’s world, crisis management calls for “going beyond” and to understand that it’s not the information itself but the knowledge (application of the information) that holds the power. Information without clarity overwhelms and disorients and then actually becomes a danger. Intentional communication seems to be the name of the game — to share critical information in a manner that has a chance of empowering others and to lead people rather than controlling them.

Our words are either an asset or a weapon. They either assure or breed more chaos. As leaders, we must remember we are not only the messenger but also the message — what and how we say it does matter. Our words carry our feelings and those trigger thoughts and emotions regardless of our best intentions, leaving a space for many personal interpretations. Therefore, emotional competency becomes the number one priority along with self-awareness in order to break the patterns of pessimism. We do this dropping all hostilities against each other, verbally or nonverbally with humbleness, authenticity, care, and transparency. This is how:

1. Know that your mindset influences your effectiveness.

Your perception creates your reality. Feeling fear is not really a problem; our response to fear is. In attention-deficit societies, people seek attention and they find it in all the wrong places, being persuaded by the wrong information. In the virtual world, information travels quickly and a lack of empathy often causes anxiety and fear. It’s imperative that you take the time to discern what information is of true value.

2. Stop managing the crisis. Lead through it.

Be of service instead of demanding others to serve you, avoid manipulating emotions, trust your heart and allow yourself to be vulnerable. Lastly, invite confrontations — they mean you are meeting the truth head-on.

3. Invest time in open communication and caring support.

Find your own truth. Then, welcome it from others to create the emotional safety needed for people to express what they think without fear of retribution.

4. Choose transparency.

Any news — even bad news — is much better than no news at all. Not knowing causes the brain to start creating “dangerous” interpretations.

5. Accept that it will get worse before it gets better.

As a part of the chaos theory, it’s only by admitting what is not working that we have a chance to fix it. No input means no progress.

6. Leadership is a game of constant adjustment.

Adjust frequently to alter your way of being and leading initiatives before it is too late to respond.

7. Believe that you can win.

Just don’t make any assumptions that you will win at everything. Prioritize and know what things are worth your attention.

8. Invest in well-being.

This means taking care of yourself and your team. Encourage rest, exercise and meditation to keep emotions in check.

In a crisis, it’s tempting to take shortcuts and assume that people will use common sense. But fear interrupts typical brain processes deregulating the way people absorb information, enhancing their emotions, impairing reflection and delaying responsiveness, while emphasizing reactiveness. Ineffectiveness combined with a lack of self-awareness is always costly (just as I wrote in my article “How A Lack Of Self-Awareness Leads To Ineffective Leadership”). However, when faced with seemingly insurmountable challenging times, it can be outright destructive. Conscious leadership takes practice — and lots of it. It is not based on any specific pattern but rather on taking one step at a time and adjusting according to available information as it comes.

This post was originally published at Forbes Coaches Council

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