How to stay calm in a crisis

In a critical situation, we do not always retain the ability to react with restraint, think through options before making a decision, and not act in a hurry.

Chef Miguel Garcia was minutes away from the start of a five-course banquet for 550 guests at the Montecristo Cup golf tournament in Puerto Rico. And at that moment, Garcia learned that there was a problem with the artichoke soup.

The junior cook mistakenly put a salsify root vegetable in the dish, which meant that the whole soup had to be prepared from scratch.

The meal plan for the banquet was in jeopardy. Garcia needed to make some urgent decision. But first he had to deal with the cook who had made a mistake.

“Early in my career, I saw chefs throwing dishes on the floor, yelling and firing people on the spot,” recalls Garcia, who is now a senior chef assistant at the Marriott resort on the Caribbean island of Aruba and helps manage a staff of 136 people. “But over time, you realize that you will achieve more if you are patient and ready to help your employees.”

Garcia and the junior cook sat down to peel the artichokes. He called in the help of two pastry chefs and instructed the gravy to fry the bacon. As a result, 230 liters of artichoke soup were ready just in time for the change of dishes after the salad, and the schedule for the important banquet was kept.

Garcia's patience with his subordinate is a good lesson for all managers to learn.

But in a critical situation, we do not always retain the ability to react with restraint, think through options before making a decision and not act in a hurry.

Conquer the Instinct

Patience goes against our basic instincts, observes New York-based corporate and senior executive consultant Peter Bregman.

In a stressful situation, the amygdala in our brain provokes the “fight or flight” response: our body is programmed by nature to act instinctively.

But the boss needs to learn not to give in to this instinct.

“Most leadership decisions require that they be approached in a balanced way and take into account the long-term consequences, and not take quick, ill-considered actions,” says Bregman, author of a book on how the habit of taking short pauses to reflect on the situation can help avoid counterproductive steps.

Many managers believe that they must respond quickly and have ready answers to all questions. But this behavior can lead employees to think that the only way to solve all problems is to involve the authorities.

According to Bregman, good leaders instead teach their subordinates to make their own decisions. This helps to find more creative ways out of difficult situations, and the employees of such a team gain confidence in their abilities.

It is not easy to form such a culture. To do this, sometimes you need to allow subordinates to independently search for solutions to problems, even in cases where you already have an answer.

However, trying to understand the issue educates staff much more effectively than thoughtlessly applying ready-made schemes.

“It takes incredible patience to turn a situation into a learning process,” says Bregman. “First, we need patience to take a breath, take our time and ask ourselves: “What is the optimal result I would like to get in the current conditions?””

Startup excerpt

Mikkel Svein and his founding partners at Zendesk learned patience when they started their startup in 2007.

They set up a cloud-based customer service software company in an ordinary apartment in Copenhagen, Denmark, with about $50,000 of their own savings.

The money was running out when suddenly an investor showed up offering half a million dollars of seed money.

Initially, Swain and his partners thought that with this investment they could quickly bring their software product to market. But the more closely they looked at the investor, the more questions they had.

“He was just trying to get the most out of the deal,” says Swain, CEO of Zendesk. “Sometimes you realize that if you take the money, you will get a headache. And if you don't take it, you'll get it too."

Eventually Swain persuaded the partners to turn down the offer. For another six months they struggled to make ends meet, collecting funds from friends and relatives. This money was enough until they found a more suitable investor in California and moved the company to San Francisco.

Zendesk (which is already publicly traded) generated $127 million in revenue last year. The firm now has 57,000 clients in 150 countries.

“When building a startup, you have to be patient, because it takes a lot of time,” Swain says. “You need to constantly try to move forward, but you also need endurance in order to make competent decisions.”

Cook Garcia learned this lesson many years ago. He got to work in public catering quite late, at first having studied at home in the Dominican Republic as a lawyer. After graduating from culinary school, he got a job in a restaurant at the hotel, and his first working day fell on Christmas Eve.

He received his first assignment: peel and cook 25 cases of artichokes (the same insidious ingredient that crippled his subordinate a few years later).

Chef showed Garcia how to do it, then left, leaving him alone with the artichokes.

“It was a real baptism of fire,” recalls Garcia. “I learned right then that it takes patience to work in a professional kitchen. If you work with artichokes too hastily, you will cut yourself. And it is not easy to pull out the core from them. You have to have patience."

Therefore, when his assistant ruined the soup before the start of an important banquet, Garcia knew that he needed to show restraint: “If you make a scandal, you start yelling “why did you do it!?”, then what will be the use of it? You'll just be wasting your time. It’s better to just take it and solve the problem.”

Source: Eric Barton, BBC, UK