Are you as tired of the term “unprecedented times” as we are? Cliché or not, it is a pretty accurate summary of 2020. The tension surrounding today’s US election is adding one more layer to many people’s emotional overload.
Leaders are in the unique position of needing to create a container for the emotions and stress of their teams as well as managing their own. It is helpful to know your own inclinations or tendencies during stress, as well as understand the different coping strategies that may be present in your team members.
Enneagram teachers have expanded psychologist Karen Horney’s explanation of the three main interpersonal coping strategies (aggression, withdrawal and compliance – complex versions of fight, flight and freeze) to help understand how different personalities respond to stress. Suzanne Stabile calls these instinctual approaches “stances”:
- These are the leaders who are quick to take action. They are assertive and fast-paced, always working to create the future. They don’t stop for introspection, but will jump into whatever they see needs to be done, trying to “act” themselves out of the situation.
- This can either be inspiring to their teams or come across as callous and cold.
- In crisis, this leader asks “Why don’t they just DO something?!”
- Very attuned to the experiences and reactions of the people around them, these leaders are present-focused and tend to look outward for solutions. Under stress they will internalize problems, assuming that it is their fault and also their responsibility to find the person with the right solution.
- These leaders can be seen as either caring or frustratingly indecisive.
- In crisis, this leader wonders “Why don’t they check in with the people around them?!”
- Skilled observers, these leaders have a tendency to turn inwards. They prefer to wrestle with problems alone and tend to lack conviction that they can make a difference. They see everything going on around them, but don’t want to take action until they have developed a perfect solution. Their actions are often determined by what they believe people in their role are “supposed” to do.
- Others perceive these leaders either as thoughtful and steady or aloof and even passive-aggressive.
- In crisis, this leader asks “Why aren’t they taking time to think this through?!”
As with most things in life, there is no perfect approach and balance is important. All three stances – reflection, connection with others, and bold action – are needed.
Here are questions you can ask in any crisis to help you lead from a broader perspective instead of your own default:
- What would it look like if I approached or leaned into the problem? How can I close the gap?
- What would it look like if I confronted or challenged the situation? How can I clear away the obstacles?
- What would it look like if I stepped back or away from the problem? How can I get some distance?