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Brain circuits

How to free yourself and your teams from fear in times of crisis

Published 7 July 2021 in Brain circuits • 3 min read

Leading in times of crisis can be very tricky. Just because you are in a leadership role doesn’t mean you don’t experience fear, anxiety and worry. However, you need to be able to handle these emotions and deal with them if you are going to help your team navigate rocky waters.

Lead yourself before you lead others.

If you are in a negative state, one in which you are filled with discouragement and fear, you are not going to be able to lead others. So stop and take control of yourself.

Don’t be a psychological hostage.

Being a psychological hostage means you let your emotions be controlled by the event or thing that’s happening around you. Whether your company has to go under vast layoffs, it is being disrupted by competitors, or you are simply in a situation at work where you are competing for scarce resources with other teams, it can cause negative feelings.

It is easy in difficult situations to feel powerless and fearful, but you need to be able to deal with your fears. If you don’t, you essentially become a hostage to yourself, which is something you don’t want. You want to feel free even when you are not free. As a psychological hostage, you feel powerless, but you are not. You can control yourself.

Even in the worst of times you need to be able to breathe, to act, to intersect with the situation and the consequences.

This starts in the mind’s eye.

Looking with your mind’s eye means being able to look at perception, or what you call reality, and see beyond what is obviously there. Emotions guide the mind’s eye to a large extent. So if you are feeling grief and fear or sadness or anger you need to take a deep breath and find a way to come back to a state of authentic joy.

Manage emotions and shift your view to the positive.

You do this mainly by focusing on the present. If you focus on bad things that are happening and the negative talk and fears that surround your situation it is easy to get discouraged or filled with fear. You don’t want to be in denial, we need to acknowledge that there are threats and there is a crisis, but you have to manage the perceptions and focus on the reality of what is really happening.

To manage your mindset and your emotions and come back to the idea of playing to win and be able to see opportunities, you need to see beyond what your eye can see. This is the mind’s eye. There are always opportunities out there. Good things will happen to you again. You need to find meaning and purpose in what is happening. Start by focusing on what you can learn. Even in the worst catastrophic situations there is something you can learn. Focusing on that will help you start to see more possibilities.

Managing yourself is a leadership process. As you come out of a crisis, give yourself credit for having weathered the storm, it makes you a stronger person and one better able to model emotional resilience for your team.


George Kohlrieser

George Kohlrieser

Distinguished Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behaviour at IMD

Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior at IMD and Director of the High Performance Leadership program. He serves as a consultant to several global companies including Accenture, Amer Sports, Borealis, Cisco, Coca-Cola, HP, Hitachi, IBM, IFC, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Morgan Stanley, Motorola, NASA, Navis, Nestlé, Nokia, Pictet, Rio Tinto, Roche, Santander, Swarovski, Sara Lee, Tetra Pak, Toyota, and UBS.


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