I recently got a new horse.
His name is Callahan.
The problem is we’re both from different planets.
Pretty soon after getting Callahan, I realized I needed re-training.
He grew up on a ranch in Nebraska. He’s used to working long, hard days with cattle on the wide-open prairie.
I grew up trotting my prim pony through the ancient estates of Cape Cod, New England.
Our cultural and training backgrounds create a divide in our communication.
A few days ago, he was getting excited, so I muttered, “whoah,” under my breath to slow him down.
He stopped so quick I nearly flew right over his head.
To help with our struggles, I started working through renowned trainer Clinton Anderson’s online course called The Method.
It’s changed everything. It’s also unexpectedly shining new light on problems I see with my clients who struggle to lead their teams when the going gets tough.
Let me explain.
Your team members are kind of like horses when they’re scared, stressed, or panicking.
Horses are prey animals. It’s in their nature to get scared because it keeps them safe.
When a horse gets scared, it goes into survival mode—he’ll start bucking, spooking, or running around like its hair is on fire. And a bucking horse could be seriously dangerous.
To get Cal out of his instinctual, safety-brain, Anderson says we need to get him into his thinking brain.
In other words, we need to get him un-scared.
The same is true for employees and leaders right now.
Across the board, we’re overwhelmed, over-worked, lonely, and stressed.
We’re in survival mode and have been for a while.
How can you move your team out of safety-brain and into their “thinking” brains?
Let me tell you.
Getting a horse to use its thinking brain is surprisingly simple. You get the horse to move his feet, forwards-backward-left-and-right.
That’s right. The simple technique to calm Cal down and move him from panic to being willing to follow my lead is to move his feet.
When he moves his feet, his operating system comes back online from panic and settles into his job.
I realized the other day that it’s the same at work.
To calm your team down and get back to leading them, you need to get them moving their feet.
Okay, okay—I know humans aren’t horses. It’s a metaphor, people.
“Moving our feet” at work means going through the motions and doing the next hard thing.
Like I need to move Cal’s feet forwards-backward-left-and-right, there are four concrete movements for leaders eager to get their teams functioning again.
- Get the ju-ju out—ask and talk about what it’s like out there. Be real.
- Get clear on what needs doing. I’m talking micro-doses and baby steps.
- Do those things.
- Celebrate & repeat.
These four steps are the workplace equivalent of moving our feet and getting our primitive brains to settle down.
How to get your team’s feet moving again?
To drive home just how concrete this tool is, let me show you an example. These are the steps I’d take to help my team move out of panic and back into function.
- Host a meeting where the intent is for the entire team to listen to each other with empathy about what’s going on for them. This conversation must be about sharing, believing, and feeling with each other, not debating or solving. I’d set the tone by sharing with vulnerability.
- Once we’d aired out the ju-ju, I’d transition to a discussion to discern what needs to get done, why, and by when. Focus on concrete items, not lofty, airy goals. We\’re looking for success here. Communicate the outcomes in several ways to your team.
- Watch the team begin to move through the work. Affirm and appreciate them as they go.
- Celebrate as you all start to feel things getting done and moving. Repeat.
Here’s a bit more about why this works.
When Callahan gets panicked and scared, he benefits from a simple, repeatable series of movements to calm his nervous system and de-escalate the fear.
When the world is churning and burning at work, we, too, benefit from a checklist of what to do next. Simple checklists allow us to resume tracking our progress, give us time for our nervous systems to calm down—and we can do that while simultaneously making forward progress to boost our confidence and good feelings further.
Your checklist to get your team moving gain.
To reiterate once more, here’re the same four steps in a checklist so you can start reducing your team’s stress today:
- [ ] Ask how people are doing. Listen, share, and empathize. Don’t even try to fix anyone.
- [ ] Get clear on what needs doing first, second, and third.
- [ ] Watch and notice every little progress.
- [ ] Celebrate. Repeat.
Getting your team out of a chronic situation starts with simply getting their feet moving. Use this checklist to get your team out of bad situations.
During our exclusive leadership cohort, The Leading People Program, we teach and implement an entire suite of leadership tools and checklists to turn worn-out bosses into inspiring leaders. Click here to enroll today.