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Leading in stressful times

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, FL -- Leading in stressful times

By Lt. Col. Joseph J. Narrigan
Commander, 45th Medical Operations Squadron

I am confident in saying that leading is easier when all is going well. I am equally confident when I say that life is a contact sport so my first sentence won't get us very far. 

Studies have shown leaders can prepare for their roles during stressful situations. Leaders, first and foremost, must have a solid understanding of and competence for the tasks at hand. 

In high-stress situations leaders must have a sight picture that is as accurate as possible, be able to quickly think through decision trees, while proactively considering whats next. 

As leaders we seldom have all the information we would like when making
decisions, so it is better to make our decision(s) based on what is realistically obtainable rather than develop "paralysis by analysis."

Make the best decisions possible and reflect at a later time. 

Not being able to think ahead and through many possible outcomes/ scenarios can impair the mission through delayed decisions or outward signs of insecurity. 

These outward signs can affect the morale by a breach in trust. Airmen know leaders are faced with difficult decisions but are willing to follow if trust is established. 

Effective leaders must be able to weigh events and determine what truly matters and when it will matter, if at all. One cannot have their "hair on fire"all the time ... followers will lose the ability to know when an action or event is critically important. 

Situational leadership requires flexibility. In many instances leaders can and, in my opinion, should be somewhat democratic in allowing subordinates to provide input into the decision making process. But, when required, leaders must be able to switch into an authoritative mode and give clear unwavering guidance. 

No matter the situation, people need to know and trust their leaders care. Leaders must have a vulnerable humanistic facet that conveys appreciation for the feelings and sacrifices of others. It is empathy, not uncontrolled emotions, that cements a leader and followers for a common good. 

My challenge: Critically think through what matters, and mentally prepare in easy times for the stressful times to come.