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Surprise a rabbit in your front yard and you’re likely to see neither Fight nor Flight but the third oft-forgotten option: Freeze. “Don’t move. Hide in plain sight. Blend into the background and survive” the amygdala screams.
This strategy isn’t just for surprised rabbits in suburbia. In organizations large and small where Fear and Uncertainty are the norm, hiding becomes an all-too-rational option for employees. When it becomes standard practice for companies to meet short term financial targets by laying off people (wrapped in the anti-septic euphemisms of “reorganization,” “restructuring,” or (the lamest of terms) “right sizing”), surviving becomes the focus of employees’ work lives. This means blending into the background, avoiding risk that could go wrong, and never sticking out. When the Layoff Lion comes as he always does, hiding in the middle of the pack is the safest bet.
Of course, bland, beige, conventional effort and ideas is the precise opposite of what companies need when they are failing to meet expectations … yet their choices in those moments setup the very cycle of their own demise.
No matter the size, no leader leads an “organization” — Leaders lead PEOPLE, and people react to uncertainty and fear in predicable ways. If it’s excellent work and creative innovation you need from your people, lead in a new way: quit stirring up the cortisol and build a large “Circle of Safety.”