Highly effective leaders tend to be highly responsive leaders. In psychological terms, being responsive involves thoughtfully and intentionally adapting your behavior to the current circumstance. It entails first taking the time to calmly digest what is happening.
In contrast, being reactive means to go straight into high-alert stress mode. Your brain automatically processes the problem as a state of emergency and your sympathetic nervous system is activated, preparing your body to fight, flee, or freeze.
A leader’s actions telegraph what is happening internally—high energy or high alert. Of course, it is not possible to always be completely calm under stressful conditions. In a difficult situation, a deficit-based reactive mind-set is natural at first. But if you can shift into responsive mode, you can channel your adrenaline to serve you and the situation.
The only difference between fear and excitement is breathing.
Most people exhibit distinct and unique patterns of behavior when they are in responsive and reactive modes. For decades, psychologists have known that by shifting your behavior, you can change your internal state, and vice versa. A common behavioral strategy for shifting your internal state is taking 10 deep breaths. The physical action of taking ten deep breaths interrupts the high-alert cycle so that you can channel your adrenaline positively toward high energy.
Try taking ten deep breaths when you would rather be excited than fearful. This creates a break in your reactivity, and sets the foundation for a more thoughtful, responsive mode of being. After all, you cannot be calm and anxious simultaneously.
A keen awareness of what happens when you are angry, afraid, energized, or engaged is key to making that shift from responding to reacting when necessary. The Reading Your Body in Real time questionnaire, which I have provided here as a free resource from my upcoming book, Lead Positive: What Highly Effective Leaders See, Say, and Do, asks you to reflect on the emotions that arise when you find yourself in challenging situations.
The questionnaire is designed to remind you that adrenaline serves two masters: responsiveness and reactivity. Reflect on the patterns of your internal signals so that you can quickly assess which track you are on the next time you encounter a stressful situation.
Leading up to the launch of Lead Positive on March 17, I will be sharing more tips and tools directly from the book to help you shine the spotlight of attention on the positive and possible.
All I ask is that you let me know what is working for you!