You know that uneasy feeling. An unexpected disruption is crashing into your world. Perhaps it’s a business set back, a betrayal of trust, a life-threatening illness, or a worldwide pandemic. When will a sudden disturbance with unwelcome consequences come next?

If you are committed to a positive outlook, considering all that can go wrong ahead of time seems counterintuitive. Yet, a monumental shift in your normal can suddenly occur, so great a shift that gaping holes are left where solid structures once stood. We can be left defenseless, unprotected, susceptible, and at further risk. Is bad news avoidable? What is your strategy to overcome unexpected crisis?

As a child, I remember preparing for tornados. Where I grew up tornados were common, although our family never sustained a direct hit. During family tornado drills, we would scramble downstairs to the crawlspace in our basement, squeezing together into the most protected corner of our home. Armed with our windup radio and extra pillows we would hunker down for the duration. We knew that when the sirens stopped, we were free to emerge. Coming upstairs after a practice drill, we would return to a normal landscape, feeling an overwhelming sense of safety. We were convinced our preparation and practice would protect us and help us beat any tornado that came our way. We were ready.

From a coaching perspective, I know that practicing helpful thinking patterns helps my clients navigate their professional goals. Clients practice discovering where they are now, where they want to be, and how they want to get there. When “givens” are not “givens” any longer, and the landscape shifts to unrecognizable, these clients are able to rely on their established thinking patterns. They use the same questions in crisis they have asked themselves in calmer times. Even when potential vulnerabilities are hidden and no preparation strategies can be prepared, a coaching perspective can help. As a leader you must (and you can) regain your footing, maintain continuity, and accomplish your priorities when crisis comes. So much is depending on you.

In a moment, I will share Three Questions with you. Becoming adept at asking and answering these Three Questions, will help you create an invaluable tool you can use in good times and bad. Practice working through these questions with your coach on a regular basis. When a crisis hits, you will be prepared. The goal of the Three Questions is clarity. You will need clarity to give you just-in-time awareness, clear thinking, and courage to make the best choices. Prepare yourself now for whatever is coming, so you will not be overcome. The Three Questions will help you develop positive calmness, even in the midst of painful disappointments or unsettling interruptions. Like it or not, disruptions arrive without warning, setbacks upset plans, fiascos unfold. The tornado will come. Are you facing one now?

Clarity About Success – What do I want?

In a crisis, you may want to focus on what you don’t want instead of what you want. Focus on what you want. Ask yourself who your goals are really for, and if your goals are within your sphere of control. Perhaps you will have goals that need to be delayed, delegated, or even discarded. Find the “whys” of what you want. These whys will help you make better choices, as you respond to the demands of the new reality. Perhaps your idea of success needs to change, at least for now. Reframe your success indicators and focus on the easiest first step. Aiming for an early win and celebrating each victory will keep you motivated. The disrupted landscape has space for the new vision you are beginning to imagine.

Clarity About the Timeline – What’s possible?

Give yourself permission to set aside prior timelines or long-term strategies. If necessary, redesign your activities, allowing for a different pace. Give yourself time to pause and regroup. You may want to set aside space to grieve your losses and let them go. Resist the urge to force something to happen, if the circumstances are radically different than they were prior to the disruption. Listen to the hopes that seem to be less important than the emergency. Keep a possibility mindset. Challenge yourself to identify the specific silver linings in the midst of your storm.

Clarity About the Resources – What do I need?

Listen to your fears and name them. Choose the most important fear to diffuse. Ask for help. Establish supportive relationships with people who are in your corner. What resources do you already have? What is missing? Don’t regress into inactivity or give in to unhealthy substitutes for what will help. What strengths have you relied on in the past that you can revive? Is now the time for self-care, so you can care for your organization better? What does that mean for you?

I invite you to work through the Three Questions regularly.

Practice, practice, practice. Build this “reflect, plan, do” cycle into your life, so when disruption comes you are ready. Train yourself, and you will get to clarity more easily when the tornado ravages your landscape. In a crisis, you will know how to find equilibrium. Your leadership can thrive in new ways, and your team can continue better than before. Use the Three Questions to prepare yourself for the unwelcome storms that will touch down in your life. As you equip yourself to understand what you want, design what’s possible, and find what you need, you will emerge confident and ready to move forward.

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