Who Are You in a Time of Crisis?

The phrase “Desperate times calls for desperate measures,” is so common in the English vernacular that we can’t quite attribute it to one person. It seems to date as far back as ancient Greece, being based loosely on the writings of Hippocrates.  Since Hippocrates is one of the first physicians, and today we are facing an unprecedented public health crisis, it seems fitting to consider this phrase. 

In my life, the phrase “desperate times calls for desperate measures” has never felt more fitting. But as I really paused to consider this phrase I began to realize that even if the rest of the world feels desperate, I don’t want to act desperately. And that led me to wonder . . . who do I want to be in this time of crisis, as a business leader, as a community leader, as a son, as a dad, as a friend, and as a husband?

I started to think maybe Hippocrates’ famous phrase isn’t relevant. In fact, I believe that desperate times call for the most loving measures that you and I can muster. As you lead at work, at home, in your community or otherwise, you set the tone, so love well!

I was in the grocery store this week, for example.  I was getting my normal amount of groceries, and I picked up a four-pack of toilet paper. And a senior woman who was ahead of me in the checkout line asked, “Where did you find that toilet paper?” 

And I said, “Please take mine since you are ahead of me in line. I’ll go get some more.” 

She said, “Oh no I couldn’t do that—what if they are out now?” 

I insisted, but she insisted on refusing to take mine. Then she thanked me profusely and went back and got her own. This was actually my third stop that morning In search of toilet paper (can you relate?), but at that moment I acted out of the best of myself, to offer what I have to someone else that needed it.  I think we all have the capacity to do that; to be other-centered, especially in a time of crisis and that is loving well! I believe that a crisis can bring out the best of us!  

However, what we often experience during a crisis is that it brings out the worst of us, as we become fearful, isolated, insecure or possessive.  (Are you surprised that the top items selling right now are ammunition, toilet paper, and pot?)  

During the current crisis, I find that a new model of leadership is emerging—one that’s from the inside out.  Imagine that communities form circles, and as leaders, we often think that we need to be at the top of the circle.  However, I find communicating directly, honestly, and often with vulnerability and transparency allows a leader to step into the inside of the circle and create a new kind of collaboration, allowing more cohesiveness, and better outcomes.  To do that, I have developed my list of top daily reminders that help me step into the circle. I review my list daily at the beginning of my day and I commit each day to stay true to them. Here it is:

  1. Lead clearly and meaningfully. Our responsibility is to help our teams and communities see the horizon of possibilities. We have to be able to tell our teams (or families) that there is a great horizon of possibilities out there. It’s our job to help our teams see a brighter future.
  2. Prepare for trouble ahead. As leaders, we can’t be fools to think it will always be good times. Nor should we think that our role is to help make people feel better, or give them a false sense of security.  I have committed to being direct and clear. The current crisis will be a game-changer for many people and many companies. We can’t pretend it isn’t happening, and it’s important as leaders for us to remind our teams about the need for knowing the facts and being prepared for the worst.  
  3. It’s ok to be afraid. It’s important to figure out how to be afraid and lead effectively at the same time. What does it look like to be afraid sometimes, but also to lead? It includes being aware of our feelings, being transparent, being open, leading with our best intentions forward. 
  4. Focus on the decisions we need to make. Think about here and now. Sometimes just asking ourselves, “What am I going to do right now?” is enough. 
  5. Norms can (and will) change. Our norms are completely changed right now and maybe for a long time to come. We need to change from anxiety and panic to preparation and love to be able to accept the “new normal.”
  6. Reflect and Pray. In times like this I find myself turning to a spiritual place that, while I do not pretend to fully understand, I find rest and peace in.   

What kind of leader will you be now that everything has changed? Do you have daily reminders that keep you centered during times like these?  If not, it’s not too late to start! 

Yasser Youssef is the president of The Budd Group, one of the leading facility service companies in the country a North Carolina-based company that provides facility support services in the Southeast. Throughout his career, Youssef has met leaders from all backgrounds, and believes leadership is for everyone. Over the past few years, he has developed an affinity for writing and contributing thought leadership, and is often asked to speak to businesses throughout the country about authentic leadership.

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