How to Stay Sane in the Face of Change

Scrabble tiles that spell out in all caps, PAUSE, BREATHE, RESUME

Developing the leadership maturity to be an extraordinary leader

“I’m so annoyed,” my client exclaimed as she came to our coaching session.

“I can’t believe it’s been three years and once AGAIN, we’re changing the rules about how much we need to be in the office.”

She went on to share more context: it turns out there have been several changes in the company’s approach to “return-to-work.” The latest change was last year, when the company agreed to a flexible work schedule and everyone was told that they needed to be in the office one day a week, with the other four days on an “as needed” basis.

“I actually didn’t agree with this because I think people need clearer rules and guidance and that they’d just come in one day a week,” my client continued. “But I honored the company’s approach and implemented this change for my team.”

“Well, yesterday I was in a meeting with my boss and she said that the rules are changing again. The CEO said people aren’t coming in beyond the one day a week and he’s disappointed that employees don’t seem to be able to be responsible or mature enough to prioritize important in-person meetings. He’s requiring that the whole company be in-person Tuesday through Thursday and Monday and Friday, we can work from home. Now I have to go back to the team and tell them that everything has changed. They will hate it, I know it. But the worst part was how I reacted to my boss. I’m embarrassed and I should know better, but I was just so frustrated. I lashed out at her, and said some things in a tone I regret.”


Has anything like this ever happened to you? Have you ever been triggered by a situation, lashed out, and then later regretted it?

Likely you have. Because we’re all human.

As human beings, we like to be right. We also like certainty. With any unknown situation or change that’s introduced, we typically have a “threatened” reaction. From neuroscience, we know that in these situations, we often experience what is called an amygdala hijack: a situation triggers us and shuts the door to our higher brain centers. This is also known as “fight, flight, or freeze” and it not only changes the chemistry of the brain, but also changes how we feel and behave. 

When this happens, cortisol (the stress hormone) gets flooded through our brains and bodies, and we lose connection with the executive functioning of the brain (the more mature, thinking part). In those moments, we are often hyper-focused on what we believe is right and it can be very hard to see any other perspectives.

This is clearly what happened to my client.

Situations happen. Life happens. But it’s how we navigate these situations that determine whether or not we show up as skilled, mature, and conscious leaders.

So, what can you do as a leader to better navigate these situations?

The most important thing you can do is to know yourself and how you react in these kinds of situations. And then–though it’s not easy–you can catch yourself before your response gets the best of you.

Here is a three-step process to help you respond to change:

1. Know yourself

  • How do you tend to react to change? Uncertainty? Do you roll with it or move through it quickly? Do you have a tendency to become paralyzed? Do you resist it? Do you need time to process?
  • The last time you were thrown into a changing situation, how did you behave? Did you embrace it? Ignore it? Fight it?

2. Breathe

  • Even one deep breath can calm the mind and bring you back to yourself and your thinking (non-triggered) brain

3. Choose your response

  • Once you know your typical response, plan for what you will do the next time your emotions hijack you
  • For example:
    • Once you hear some news, make sure you take some time alone. One thing we know is that when we are triggered, cortisol releases into our bloodstream. And it stays there for 26 hours. Remember when you were told to sleep on it? Good advice!
  • Ask for some time to process before responding
    • “I need a bit more time to process. Can I get back to you with questions?”


I invite you to try the process above this week, especially if you are dealing with an ambiguous situation, a situation that keeps changing, or anything putting you on shaky ground.

Let me know how it goes!

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