Prepare like a Boss
Top Five Ways Personal Preparedness Will Make You a Better Boss
We find a lot of excuses for not preparing for emergencies, right?
“That’s never going to happen where I live.”
“I’ll know what to do if it does happen.”
“I’ll be able to order stuff on Prime no matter what.…”
Don’t feel bad. It’s tough to motivate ourselves to act based on a hypothetical, especially one that our minds have convinced us is far-fetched.
The thing is, being ready for a disaster is really only a fraction of the benefit of preparing for emergencies. If we zoom out, we can observe that the real impact is a holistic resilience and skillset that can serve us in every aspect of our lives.
Don’t believe me? Try this…
Imagine for a moment, a person who you think would not only survive in the face of disaster but would thrive.
Do you have that image? Great. Hold onto it.
Now, think about a person who you imagine being a very successful boss; someone who would be effective, well-respected, and deserving of a nice fat bonus at year-end.
Got that one? Fabulous. Stay with me.
Now line those two people up next to each other in your brain and think about the characteristics that define each of them.
Odds are, you’ll see a lot of similarities between those two individuals.
So, why is it then, that we think about personal preparedness in this vacuum? Like it offers such a narrow benefit in our lives that it’s not worth undertaking?
It’s like saying “I’m training for the NYC marathon, but running 40+ miles a week won’t help me dash for my train in the morning.”
As someone who trained for the NYC marathon and spent MANY mornings sprinting for trains, I can assure you, that statement doesn’t jive.
So, let’s flip the script. Let’s think about preparedness efforts as preparing for life, not emergencies. Doing so will make it a lot harder to justify slacking off, and might even make it a little more fun.
To start with, let’s consider the top five ways emergency preparedness will make you a better boss.
1. Solve problems before they start:
A key component to planning for disasters is being able to adequately assess and understand the risks. Developing this capability allows us to anticipate potential issues before they exist, imagine the possible impacts, and pre-emptively devise a strategy for dealing with them.
As a leader, it’s certainly not your job to pre-empt every possible issue, but looking towards the horizon with a keen awareness of potential pitfalls will enable you to minimize damage or avoid them all together. Daniel Levitin, a neuroscientist, discusses this approach in his TED Talk as “prospective hindsight or “premortem.” Levitin reasons “we are not at our best when we’re stressed” due to the impacts of stress hormones like cortisol on our ability to think clearly and rationally. Thinking through worst-case scenarios before they happen allows us to put systems in place allows us to do some of that rational thinking beforehand to minimize damage or perhaps prevent them in the first place.
2. Say what you mean and mean what you say:
Due to the equally high pace and stakes that are characteristic of most disasters, communication skills are essential to any successful emergency response effort. Developing a system for communicating well during disasters will provide an incredible foundation for doing the same in peacetime.
A guidepost that will serve you in developing effective communication skills for ANY scenario is the Four C’s: focus on communicating clearly, concisely, correctly, and consciously.
The first three are self-explanatory—make it simple, short, and spot-on—but it’s the fourth “c” that will really set you apart. What I mean by “consciously” communicating is paying attention to:
Who is receiving the communication?
How will that audience read/interpret this communication?
When/how often do they need the information, you are providing? and
What might be some follow-up questions you can anticipate and address now?
3. Encourage creative problem solving:
One of the great benefits of disaster planning is that it gives you the opportunity to stretch your problem-solving skills into the realm of hypotheticals. When you are tasked with solving a problem that does not yet exist, you have the benefit of time and the luxury of trying on multiple ideas.
Building this capacity in the disaster context will allow you to flex that same muscle in your everyday work and encourage your team to do the same. As a leader in any field, you only stand to benefit from an increase in creative problem solving for your team and removing boundaries around “expected” or “correct” solutions.
4. Review, Revise, Repeat. Recognize the wins and reflect on the losses:
When the dust settles after a disaster, emergency managers conduct what we call an “after-action.” This review includes an assessment of what went well and what could have gone better in the response and results in an action plan for addressing those areas that require improvement.
As leaders, many of us strive to be introspective and reflective, but in doing so it’s easy to focus on the wins and try to move past the losses quickly. Building a concrete practice of review and revision—like an after-action—into our everyday jobs forces us to examine those not-so-hot performances that actually deserve the most attention and gives us a chance to improve. Moreover, adopting this type of review as a regular practice will help reframe mistakes or shortcomings from “oopsie's” to opportunities. This concept sometimes referred to as “failing forward” encourages learning from mistakes and leveraging that knowledge for future success.
So, instead of hiding from failures, just “F” ‘em: Find ‘em, Face ‘em; and Fix ‘em!
5. Embrace grace under fire:
In teaching emergency preparedness, I am often confronted by other’s anxiety. For many people, just talking about disasters makes them anxious and they adopt that as a reason for not doing so. Here’s the funny thing about that, the more you talk about them the less stressed you will actually feel about them. Research shows that much of our stress response around emergencies is tied to our uncertainty around our own safety. In turn, the more we do to be prepared for an emergency, the better we will feel about our security, the less uncertain and stressed we will feel!
Reducing our stress response in emergencies is so important because doing so also decreases the amount of the stress hormone cortisol in our system, which can impede our ability to think clearly and make good decisions when it present at high levels. In identifying cool-headedness as one of the top three most valuable traits of a leader, Simon Sinek, author of Leaders eat Last, addresses the adverse effects of high cortisol levels on our ability to lead effectively. Specifically, Sinek points out that high cortisol levels “biologically restrict empathy and trust” thereby, challenging leaders’ ability to connect with employees and inspire trust.
As a leader, it’s critical for you to be able to maintain a clear head in the face of disaster, but it’s equally as important that you maintain your cool when dealing with the frequent fires you see on a daily basis. Learning how to keep your cool when the stakes are highest will make it easier to do the same during your Monday morning staff meeting.
We need to stop thinking about personal preparedness as only benefiting us in the narrow context of disasters. The Boss Benefits listed above are just one example of the ways this type of training can improve our lives. Personal preparedness is really about is restoring a sense of confidence and capability within ourselves that will help us to withstand adversity and grow through it.
I'd love to hear from you! How can I help you feel more ready and resilient? Get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org
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