The tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut is hard to comprehend. Most parents and children around the country are reacting as one might expect, and wondering what if that had happened to them? Our hearts go out to the survivors and families of those who lost their lives to this horrible event. We grieve with them, even though most of us do not personally know the individuals involved. Rumors of copycat behavior are prevalent, and children are afraid to go to school in fear of what might happen. Parents see their roles as keeping their children safe, and wonder if any place will ever seem safe again.
It is easy to get caught up in a mindset of fear. Our bodies are designed to protect us from immediate threats. Without conscious thought, we move into fight or flight. That works well when the threat is right in front of us. What happens when the threat is less imminent or obvious? If we allow ourselves to dwell in fear, our bodies will continue to be in the stressful state of fight or flight. Higher level thought is diminished (or more likely nonexistent) when that occurs, which means our ability to reason and react appropriately erodes. As a result, people start to exhibit poor judgment and say and do things they normally would not. They may feel “stuck” and unsure of what to do next. It may take them longer to perform routine tasks. Additionally, living in a state of stress impacts health and reduces the ability to achieve restful sleep. That only adds to the vicious cycle.
I’ve observed a number of people this week who appear to be living in fear. They are having trouble moving beyond the tragedy in Newtown, and the daily news reports are not helping matters by keeping it top of mind. As a leader, it is important for us to gain control of our fears. People look to us as role models. Would you want to follow a leader who is paralyzed by fear? True leadership entails taking control of a situation and confidently taking the first step forward, whether or not you are completely confident in the outcome you will achieve.
Is it ok for a leader to show emotion? Of course, as long as the level of emotion is appropriate to the situation. A good leader acknowledges their emotion and the emotions of their employees, and then helps the team focus on what it will take to move beyond fight or flight. A strong leader will lead the team forward to create a better future for us all.