In a Time of Crisis, Will You Choose Survival or Renewal?

The corona virus pandemic has upset most of our usual rules and forced businesses to navigate uncharted waters. Managers face challenges and must leverage all their personal resources. But long before this crisis, many of us had already anticipated that the current stance of leaders was meant to evolve. Something will definitely have changed after this ordeal. But what exactly? What lessons will this unusual situation teach us? What will be the new “normal”?

This crisis evolves in short bursts and each one creates its array of new challenges. For instance, this article was rewritten three times in the last ten days: every time, what we wanted to share was overtaken by events. Everything is shifting very quickly. Only one thing is certain: how each of us decides to experience this moment will distinguish us during the crisis and its aftermath. We might not have chosen what is happening to us, but we certainly have the ability to “decide” how we will respond in these extraordinary times. More than ever, we need to come to grips with the fact that our state of mind directly impacts our leadership stance and therefore our ability to make a relevant contribution, to generate believability and trustworthiness.


State of mind, we now know, greatly influences our ability to learn and bounce back. Initially, one must formulate a clear intent, which requires a conscious decision as to what we really wish to accomplish, without being overtaken by our emotions. One must find a “space” within oneself to ponder and focus.  You may wonder how this can be achieved in these turbulent times when we are constantly bombarded by external stimuli?

Viktor Frankl 1 defines this “space” as being somewhere between “stimulus and response”, when we are in the moment, self-aware. In this “space” we create for ourselves, we can find calm, clarity, options and opportunity. This sense of self allows us to reconnect to our thoughts, our emotions, our feelings, in essence to our fundamental needs. But are we really listening and do we really take this information into consideration? In these unsettling times, distancing ourselves from our usual paradigms, judgements and ready-made answers is imperative. In Hamlet, William Shakespeare wrote: “nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”. In other words, whatever we are facing is neither good nor bad. Objectively, it simply is.

Relying on our reptilian brain or growing antennae?

Recently, we have all become caught up in our emotions: fear, sadness, anger, fatigue and even despondency. It is helpful to understand how our minds function in these types of circumstances. When faced with danger, our reptilian brain takes over, without asking permission, to ensure we remain safe and ultimately survive. But our reptilian brain does not always provide “good counsel”. It is not wired to ponder and reflect, but rather to react to events. Without negating our feelings, it is important to take a step back and find our silent “space”, our calm place.

This “space” lies within us and we must learn to compose ourselves to reconnect with our potential: our values, experiences, gifts that constitute the essence of who we are. They will allow us to look outwards, weather the storm and think outside the box to make decisions that are off the beaten path. In taking a step back, such solutions as solidarity between competitors, for example, become possible.

Ever since this crisis started, we have demonstrated our ability to manage priorities, while considering the fate of our society. We must remain grounded, learn from our experiences and act strategically. This a time to reinvent ourselves! Let’s not resist change, bur rather use it as a driving force to grow.

The leader: creator of a learning culture

Current challenges are overwhelming and “demand” that we become learning organizations. We must all do better and differently, as soon as possible. As leaders, we must generate the winning conditions to create this organizational learning environment. We need to accommodate what is transformative… for ourselves, our partners, our teams and society as a whole.

To reinvent our organizations, the leader must facilitate organizational learning. To do so, he or she must

  • Break with what is obsolete, question current practices, beliefs, certainties;
  • Make decisions that are both ground-breaking and bold in light of emerging trends and what could better work in the future;
  • Develop new ideas and new abilities to do things differently;
  • Share and explain our own journey and make it matter.

Boldness and innovation

No one knows where this crisis will take us and what will come of it. But already, it is unleashing tremendous bursts of creativity. Some organizations have been proposing their services in a different manner, others are modifying their product line to keep their activities afloat, others still are utilizing telecommuting practices en masse… Individuals are demonstrating solidarity by helping their neighbours, their loved ones, the elderly. Governments are rolling up their sleeves and rolling out emergency measures to support families, workers, businesses. In times of crisis, there may still emerge hints of beauty in the world… Our whole way of living may be changing, as we search for balance in our existence.

Up to the leader to take ownership of the group’s learning potential

There is one important question we should not attempt to dodge: what do we expect to really become in the future?

And if we used this “storm” to reinvent how we coexist in our organizations and in society? We could revisit how we operate our organizations to find a better work-life balance and redefine our relationship to time itself, we could instigate new practices to work remotely, we could redefine how we share power and wealth. Simply put, doesn’t this constitute an opportunity to improve our degree of happiness ?

Couldn’t we simply use this situation to build a better future for ourselves?

This moment in time is a precious one, as we consider the past and anticipate the future.

Let us not return to normality, as we knew it, before all of this began! For positive change to flourish and to avoid returning to our old ways, we must commit and practice the art of learning. In this time of crisis, organizations are taking extraordinary actions, some very discreet, but all very promising. It’s as though we are witnessing the growth of young sprouts in springtime! Let us remain vigilant and nurture these initiatives so they may blossom, grow and reach maturity.

Guylaine Grenier, Professional Certified Coach – for individuals and teams
Having spent some 25 years as a consultant in businesses undergoing transformations, Guylaine now focuses on accompanying daring executives aspiring to become leaders who will address the current challenges of today’s human, organizational and societal transformations.   

1 The author of “Man’s Search for Meaning” describes his days of detention at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War 2.



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