How to Stay Focused and Help Others

As events have been unfolding around the world, we have all been going through an emotional roller coaster that feels something like this. It started with shock and confusion about what’s going on. It then moved to feelings of stress and anxiety about the losses associated with dramatic changes to our businesses and lifestyles. Then perhaps to frustration or anger with others (and ourselves) for not being able to do enough to fix things.

The good news is, as we navigate through these feelings of disorientation and uncertainty, we will at some stage come to a realistic acceptance of the way things are, and a growing confidence and determination to adapt and accommodate. This process happens at different rates for each person, depending on the severity of their situation, and the support they receive.

Of course, as new information comes to light, we are also likely to find ourselves moving backwards and forwards in this process. I want to emphasise that this is a natural human reaction to being on the receiving end of sudden and significant change. People who have been through natural disasters such as hurricanes, or the recent Australian bushfires, have been through it; and we are now all experiencing it.

Because our minds like certainty and control, current events have basically triggered a threat response in the community. This can cause us to experience a type of brain freeze, where we find it difficult to think clearly and make decisions. Some people go into denial, perhaps shrugging off the threat and waiting for everything to return to normal. Others will become agitated and distracted as they fight to save their livelihoods. These reactions are the psychological equivalent of the freeze, flight, fight response, which is always triggered by perceived threats.

The leadership challenge

A leader’s job is to move his or her mind through this reactive response as quickly as possible, to a calmer and clearer state where they can absorb facts, focus on solutions, and make sound decisions. Here’s a couple of useful tips.

Firstly and most importantly, we can’t lead from behind. So before talking with franchisees or our staff, we need to get our own thinking under control. A simple and helpful strategy is to regularly do a Check-In. Take a moment to stop what you are doing and check-in on yourself. Try it by answering these four questions.

  • How is my physical energy on a scale of 1 to 10? (Take a deep breath)
  • What are three words to describe how I am feeling?
  • What’s the main thing that’s bothering me or that’s on my mind?
  • What’s the most important thing I want to achieve right now?

This exercise can also be done with a buddy or in small groups. You should not analyse or dwell on the thoughts or feelings, just acknowledge they are there. After doing the Check-In you will probably feel a little better, be thinking more clearly and have more energy. This is because the process of naming what’s going on in our mind, reduces the hold the primitive, reactive parts of our brain have on us, and stimulates our higher level, problem solving resources.

Because we are, in a sense, taming the hold negative emotions have on us, I call this process “Name it to Tame it”. After doing this you will feel more prepared to focus on small actions that will move you toward what you want to achieve.

Finding NEMO

While it’s useful to do a Check-In on yourself, you can also do this to help your franchisees move from feeling overwhelmed, to feeling more able to focus on what they need to do. Before jumping into problem solving, take some time to check-in and ask how they’re going, or what’s the most pressing thing that’s bothering them. Don’t be pushy or overly intense. Just listen with an empathetic, accepting ear. You will find that when people feel genuinely listened to and accepted, they are more likely to engage with you and explore possible solutions. We call this Doing a NEMO, which stands for acknowledging and Naming what’s going on for someone, Empathising with them, and then Moving the conversation On to explore solutions.

Help solve immediate needs

Another way to support people in times of uncertainty and change is to keep them informed of useful facts, and provide practical help with their immediate challenges. Many franchisees will be anxious about whether their business will survive, and will be trying to manage immediate cash flow pressures. Help access relevant information, give advice on communicating with customers, and provide support in negotiating with key suppliers such as landlords. A daily 15 to 30 minute catch-up would be a smart strategy. This can be done using interactive video platforms one-on-one, in small groups or on a larger scale. (If you need help with this, we provide a coaching service on running effective interactive virtual meetings).

Focus on what you can control

Finally, it helps to focus discussions on solutions and what people can control. Waffling about negative events, allowing people to feel sorry for themselves, or regurgitating dramatic news will just throw you both into feelings of helplessness. Checklists can be extremely useful to focus the mind constructively and identify possible actions that can be taken. We are currently preparing some useful checklists which I will make available to you, based on our research, and conversations I’ve been having with franchisor leaders on what’s working.

Meanwhile, remember to check-in on yourself, show empathy before giving advice, communicate daily, and focus on what you can control. And most importantly, stay calm, because a calm mind works better.

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