Leadership mostly is future- and growth-oriented. At times, even regularly, executives also need to assess the organization’s survivability. Sometimes events and environments conspire to create an immediate risk to the organization, and there is a responsibility to be prepared for such eventualities. It also is incumbent on leaders to look at survivability over the long-term, before the organization drifts to irrelevance. While it is a mistake to focus too much on this, there should be a periodic look at threats to viability, including market irrelevance. When survivability catches us off-guard, there is am added risk, as that in times of peril humans rarely are at their best.
A fellow named Laurence Gonzales studies and writes on survival. His analyses are on outdoor risks, yet his insights are applicable in any environment or setting. He identifies the primary cause for survivability to collapse is poor stress management. This is because stress (and the emotions it may engender such as fear, fright, anger) causes the body and brain to focus narrowly and thus losing peripheral vision (literally and figuratively). The most important skill to have at the ready, per Mr. Gonzales: Self-Control. Sounds almost boring, right? After reading too many action stories or seeing too many action movies, we might conclude that daring, brilliant insight, or creativity would top the list. But increasing survivability comes from being centered and intentful.
Actions to take as a leader to manage stress and uncertainty:
Humor: Laughter sends chemicals that inhibit the amygdala from taking over. The amygdala is the part of the brain that processes input faster than the neo-cortex, primarily focused immediate threats. Remaining buoyant helps us think more effectively.
Self-Control: Whatever your current capacity to have self-control, deepen it every day. Find new ways to manage your stress all the time. Pick any area of your life to increase self-control; for example, if your commute to work is stressful, then lighten up during the drive.
Optimism: Instill optimism to the situation: Al Seibert, in The Survivor Personality, says “The best survivors spend almost no time, especially in emergency situations, getting upset about what has been lost, or feeling distressed about things going badly.” Hope and confidence go a long way.
Welcome and champion diverse ideas. Rule followers tend not to do as well as independent thinkers in survivability. Related to this, is the devil of confirmation bias (where we tend to seek information supporting an existing view). This dooms organizations.
Be willing to backtrack. Gonzales found that few people are willing to backtrack when lost, something in common to people who fared poorly in survivability. Being lost has no hero attached to it in our society, so we have trouble sitting in being lost. Admitting you are lost (or facing broad uncertainty) is an ally.
Focus. Concentrate on the very next thing to do. Gonzales says, “Everyone who dies out there [in the wilderness] dies of confusion.”