Like an outbreak of the flu, panic is contagious. It spreads rapidly and escalates quickly. And that’s a massive problem, because panicking is rarely, if ever at all, helpful. Here are a few of the problems it presents:
- Panicked people make poor decisions.
- Panicked people are less coordinated physically and often more so mentally.
- Panicked people miss key details.
- Panicked people don’t communicate accurately or clearly.
- Panicked people make problems worse.
A few weeks ago I experienced the power of panic. I live in Dallas, which is about 400 miles north of where Hurricane Harvey unleashed a tremendous amount of devastation on the greater Houston area. At first, the cities surrounding Dallas were rightfully focused on helping our neighbors to the south. We organized supply drives, created and volunteered at potential shelter sites, and donated financially. It was an amazing display of generosity.
But then, a few comments changed everything.
Rumors started to spread that there was a gas shortage due to oil refineries in Houston shutting down. My social media feed exploded with friends running to the gas station late at night out of fears we would run out of fuel in a few days. And, it only got worse because it was right before Labor Day Weekend, where many knew they needed gas for a road trip or boating on a lake. So, people not filled up their cars; they brought additional containers to fill up too.
As a result, most stations did indeed run out of gas. It had less to do with Hurricane Harvey and more to do with supply and demand. Texas Railroad Commissioner (a confusing title for someone who oversees fuel supply in the state) Ryan Sitton said, “Remember the old stories of run on the bank? If everyone goes to the bank at the same time and tries to get their money, then it causes a panic, and the bank doesn’t have enough cash in the drawer to give everyone their money. The bank has your money; it’s just not sitting at that one branch.”
Preventing Panic: A Leadership Challenge
Panicking presents a leadership challenge. A poor leader pours fuel on a panic fire. A great leader does everything they can to contain it. All of us have the opportunity to prevent panic. So how do we fight against joining a feeding frenzy? Here are a few ways that push back against panic.
Ask Good Questions
The gas crisis showed how most people really don’t know where their gas comes from. I never really thought about it too much. While it’s true a majority of Dallas’ gas comes from Houston, a significant amount comes from Oklahoma and other pipelines. If people (including me!) had thought to ask thoughtful questions like, “Are there other suppliers of gas outside of Houston?” things would have been different, and people probably would have acted differently.
In the middle of a crisis, ask good questions before reacting and posting. A good question can change an entire conversation. But, it often takes a thoughtful leader to ask it.
Cite Reputable Sources
The 2016 Presidential election is a prime example of the power of spreading news reports and how fake stories can inflict serious damage.
A poor leader pours fuel on a panic fire. A great leader does everything they can to contain it.Tweet
But, not all sources of fake news mean to be damaging or destructive. Your sweet grandma, long-lost aunt, or the kind neighbor down the street can sometimes misrepresent what is actually going on. You and I can too.
In the gas crisis, many people shared statuses from other friends who were rushing to stockpile gas. Most of us did it because the other person was doing it. I thought a few times, “Well if he’s getting gas, it must be a serious problem!” But, in reality, he didn’t know any better than me.
Before we share something, we should research it. Your “share” makes a big difference – for good or for bad. None of us wants to be the match that starts a panic fire. So, let’s choose our words and sources carefully.
Be Calm, Generous, and Loving
It was funny how fast the prospect of losing gas turned people into jerks. A little bit of panic caused many of us to forget our core values. I want to be a person who radiates calm, loves generously, and cares for others. But, in a moment of panic, it was easy to lose sight of that. If something distressing happens, don’t forget who you are.
Let’s be leaders who fight the feeding frenzy. In a world that loves to promote a dramatic story and chaotic situation, we need more people who display strength, resolve, courage, and kindness, no matter what.
Photo by Madison Grooms on Unsplash