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Collective panic: Is your organisation more like a squabble of gulls or a dazzle of zebras?

My dogs love chasing birds on the beach. It personifies joy. They will never catch them.

As a collective the birds fly in the air (often hundreds of them), away from the dogs only to settle a few metres further on for the cycle to go again and again and again. I’m always left wondering why one, just one, doesn’t take a dive at the dogs and peck them – it only takes one bird and I guarantee they’d never be chased again.

Sheeple of people

So, just like our birds, why is it that when panic sets in we all follow blindly?

This is collective panic.

We have faced much turmoil over the last few years and there is more to come – the economy is on a downturn. Rather than continuing to invest in the great things that companies instinctively know pay dividends, we see organisations starting to develop too keen a focus on the 'post-it notes' instead.

It’s not about the post-it notes

I remember during one downturn, the company I worked for put locks on the stationary cupboard overnight and stopped people using post-it notes as if that was going to be the answer to their prayers – it wasn’t then and it isn’t now.

We are seeing a collective panic set in which limits resourcefulness. Budgets are being slashed, people are being made redundant and those who are staying are required to do more with what they have; without the support.

Take a deep breath people.

Research tells us that when we panic, the amygdala (our fear centre) becomes hyperactive. This leads to an over-exaggeration of threat and things begin to spiral. When you start to control the number of post–it notes (or the equivalent) then this shows that panic has set in.

Stress of any kind impacts our cognition – our ability to problem solve and analyse our way out of a problem. We react to the situation from a place of fear. Direction diminishes, performance dips, planning goes out of the window and people retrench back to a place of safety. At the very time you need people to be firing on all cylinders, collaborating full throttle and generating ideas to amplify effectiveness and seek out opportunities, they can only look for the threat.

You might like this video to help demonstrate how we can re-centre ourselves into a resourceful state.

It only takes one person

Just like the birds in my story it only takes one person to effect a change.

So, when those around you are losing their heads, be the person who is bold, be the person who puts their head above the parapet and stands up to be counted. Be the difference.

  1. Analyse your thoughts and feelings. Understand where they are coming from and seek to take control of them. When facing turmoil, the only thing you CAN control is you. You can control your response to the situation and you know what, when you do you are much more likely to get noticed for the positive attitude and ideas you bring to the table. Here is some more information

  2. Dig into your resourceful habits. Don’t ditch the great habits you have spent months building and you know do you good – now is the time to really keep going and be the role model for others. Wendy’s written a great post about this here

  3. Be consistent and keep your promises. Don’t let fear cause you to second guess yourself. If you are keeping up with your resourceful habits, your guiding missile (your gut) will keep you on track and stop you flip flopping all over the place. In times of turmoil consistency is key – it reinforces trust and dependability which can be scarce commodities.

  4. Focus on what’s important. Distractions abound during uncertainty – no one loves nothing more than a good old gossip and a look into the crystal ball about what is coming over the hill. And, as they do so they take themselves on a spiral of doubt. Avoid this at all costs. Be clear about what’s important, focus on your end game and who you want to be rather than going through the motions or allowing the distractions to take you off focus. Here are some more tips to develop your personal leadership qualities.

  5. Be more zebra! Each zebras stripes are unique to them and they help others to recognise them. When they join together grazing, the ‘superherd’ divides up into smaller groups to protect themselves. They form a semi circle facing their attacker, ready to strike if necessary so find your people – avoid those who want to go down the rabbit hole of worry and find the others, just like you, who want to face up to the threat and be bolder, stronger, better together.


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