(Read below if you want the backstory about the goat!)

We are definitely in unprecedented times.  Amidst uncertainty, it is easy to let fear take the wheel.  As leaders, it is more important than ever that we lead with clear minds and hearts and help ourselves, our organizations and our families find the calm amidst this uncertain, scary unknown.

Understanding how our brains are wired can help us reduce fear and create calm. Our 1.0 version brain, known as our “reptilian brain” operates in simplistic terms and ultimately views everything through one of these two lenses: “threat” or “safe.” Right now, everyone is operating under the heightened sense of threat.

What Triggers the Threat Response?

There are five key elements that trigger threat, the biggest one today being lack of certainty. When things feel unsure or ambiguous, the brain perceives the metaphorical saber-tooth tiger and goes into threat response, focused on survival. We despise not knowing how long this will last, what the implications are and for many, if we (and our organizations) will get through this.

When the brain goes into threat mode, (or what neuroscientists call “the brain hijack”) we tend to respond in one (or more) ways. While we tend to have a “go to” strategy under hijack, it can depend on the situation and people around us that determines how we respond.

  1. FIGHT: We get mad, aggressive, fight for our needs, lash out, say rude things, get angry, focus on what others haven’t been doing, fingerpoint, blame, etc. We can unconsciously say things we regret. In stressful team meetings this can look like someone who personalizes, dominates, overly asserts or shuts down ideas and options prematurely.
  2. FLIGHT: We flee, avoid, run the other way or in denial keep operating as if nothing has changed. Today this can look like people who are gathering in groups, going to the gym, doing things other than ‘social distancing’ in spite of the clear messaging about what’s needed. We can spend too much time on news or social media or cleaning our closets (I have heard a number of people say that this week “it’s the only thing I can control!”)
  3. FREEZE: This is where we play dead. In the animal kingdom we see this with goats (picture above). 

A word on fainting goats: When they get excited or scared they literally – momentarily (for about 10 seconds) – pass out. Then, they get back up and return to their regularly-scheduled programming. 

It’s a great metaphor for what happens when we humans get hijacked. We get paralyzed and unproductive, forgetful, incapable, overwhelmed, distracted and unproductive, to name a few. And, if we learn from the goats, we can fall over temporarily, and then get back up.

How To Be Calm in Uncertainty

So how do we “get back up”? There are 3 key ways to move out of a hijack into calm (and ultimately increased productivity).

1.  Get Real: Most clients this week have talked about the impact on their business or their team and rarely start with how they are doing during this time. Most are so accustomed to having to “buck up and just deal with it” that there is not much time or focus on the real, human feelings of how this is. I can see their body language on video and their faces tell a different story. 

  • Slowing down to tune into your own self awareness, if only for a moment, is the best place to start. Many of you are accustomed to looking like you have all your s**t together. I’m talking about getting real about how you’re actually doing during this time. Bonus points for admitting it to another human.
  • This is why coaching is so important now, in one-on-one, group or team environments. Many leadership teams I know are meeting twice a day and are heads down in crisis management. Taking even a few minutes to ask how people are doing – for real – can build human and team connection (critical during ‘social distancing’!) and help people operate more effectively by making space for them to admit how they are doing.
  • Most leaders are working overtime, all hands-on-deck, and are not slowing down even for a moment to tune in. Mindfulness (or getting present) is out the window. Find it where you can – walking to the restroom, dialing into a meeting, sitting at a red light, start with one deep breath.

2.  Get Clear: Most people are focused on the chaos at hand and what everyone else needs. It’s counterintuitive to clarify what you need and want: most might think this is selfish or impossible. In fact, it is quite the opposite: especially in times of crisis (as they tell you on the airplane), we need to put the oxygen mask on ourselves before putting it on others. 

  • As the BOLD model reminds us, D = dare to share what you want and need!
  • Self-care might be modified during this time. To manage overwhelm,  clarifying the minimum you need to function properly is key and not to be sacrificed. 
  • One CEO this week lost 5 pounds participating in an on-line health group, another is making exercise a daily priority, and another is prioritizing sleep. My boot camp and yoga classes are moving online and my dogs have never walked so many days in a row. Get what you need most even if it’s different or feels luxurious.

3.  Get Going: Action is the antidote to being in hijack. By action, this means a step that will help create calm. Once you have gotten real about how you’re feeling and clarified what you need, then you can start to take action on what is needed. 

  • You might need to work out. You might need to block time by yourself to get organized. You might need to get into action with a co-worker on an innovation you can create as you learn to partner remotely. You might get a plan of action if you’re working from home with children. 
  • On the flip side, build in time / places of respite to NOT be in action. It’s seductive to check email, news or numbers continually. Declare “safe zones” where you can focus so everything is not blending together and feeling like you need to be working or worrying every moment.

Ask yourself:

  • How have I been responding to my hijack over the last week? (at work, and with people I care about the most?)
  • What is the biggest way stress is manifesting in me this week?
  • What key action/s can make the biggest difference to create calm and help me be productive?

Please feel free to reach out if you’d like to connect about what you need most or, to discuss the biggest current challenge you are facing today.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours in practice, 



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