In 2005 Hurricane Katrina hit the USA and my friend was left without a home, electricity, let alone a fixed business and with a young family he had no choice but to turn things around and he managed to earn over $100,000 (368,000 aed) in just 2 months.
So is there a message here for business owners who are going through tough times now with COVID-19 and still have many of the resources he didn’t have.
“I have been contacted several times recently by people wanting to know how to deal with the Covid-19 situation as an entrepreneur-business owner based on my Hurricane Karina experiences. For those unfamiliar with my story, when Katrina struck in 2005, I lost my business, and my wife lost hers.
We also lost our home, neighborhood, gathering spots, and my community of friends and associates were scattered across the country. We moved 500 miles from home and lived in a friend’s basement, then an apartment, then into a rental house. Despite that, just eight months after the hurricane, I was able to sell and collect over $100,000.00 of programs in 2 months while there was still no electricity in a lot of my area. Of course, how I did, that is what everyone wants to know, so let me first set some context.
Since 2005 I have done a lot of work in neuroscience-based coaching, psychological trigger management, brain-friendly conversations, and coaching. I was also part of a study of 250 small business owners to see how people deal with disasters to deliver needed services better immediately after disaster struck. With that information, skill development, and the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, I now know not only what I did to have my result; I also understand why it worked; something I didn’t have at the time I did it.
Our study of over 250 business owners showed that people deal with disaster or crisis in 3 phases. Figuratively speaking, they are survival, now what do I do, and regaining the ability to work towards a vision. I’ll concentrate on the first phase, survival because that’s where most of us are right now.
During stress or when triggered, our body is producing a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is known as the stress hormone. It can manifest itself in a variety of ways like aggravation, irritability, shutting down, reclusion, and depression. Long term severe effects are what you always hear about stress being a killer—heart disease and stroke, to name a few.
The body also produces cortisol whenever it revisits the stressor. Just thinking about the current situation, having the news going on in the background, endlessly looking at social media, gossiping, etc. will get it started and keep it going to the point it impairs a person’s reasoning and cognitive ability. It can even make it physically impossible. Additionally, once the cortisol is present, it takes 30-45 minutes to dissipate. That’s why some of your best thinking suddenly comes after exercise or rest. It had the time to disappear and now you’ve regained access to that part of your brain.
In our study, this initial stage is dominated by a person’s security needs. Security needs, as described by Dr. Dan Radecki in his book Psychological Safety, are about things being predictable, dependable, certain, and reliable. For sure, housing, jobs, and physical safety are essential needs for everyone. However, this also applies to whatever each individual needs to be dependable and reliable.
For example, changes to their children’s school being open, network meetings, church service, free time, gym time, routines, etc. are all things that will be triggering. All of those things can be triggers to a person’s security needs and will affect them as strongly as the person relies on that activity to be predictable.
He goes on to say that other social needs for people are related to:
• Autonomy – feeling they have some control or have some say in the issue.
• Fairness – in this context, it’s around being offered or having access to the same assistance as others, making sure others get access to the things they need so they are treated fairly, etc.
• Esteem – for people that had it all going pretty well, losing a job or losing status in some way can be a trigger
• Trust – this is about being in-group or out-group. Am I part of the herd, or am I outside the herd. People being suddenly quarantined in their homes could make a lot of people feel disconnected and on the outside looking in.
In my case, a lot of my security needs were supremely triggered all at the same time. Suddenly I was living 500 miles from home. I had to become an expert in locating housing, dealing with insurance, FEMA, finding schools, etc. Any place I would typically go for anything was destroyed or was different. We were on the phone so much with FEMA that my 4-year-old had an imaginary friend named FEMA! Uncertainty was at an all-time high.
In the current Covid-19 situation, it’s everyone having to stay home, learning how to work and study from home. Dealing with job and income worries, family being all in the same space all day and night, trying to manage fears and many other things is undoubtedly violating all of their social needs and activating their triggers. Worst of all, there is no certainty about when it will stop and what it will look like for all of us when it does.
This uncertainty is when the brain goes to its biases and makes up stories that make sense to the person because the brain hates loose ends. Conspiracy, blame, or other explanations come to them as a way of explaining the current circumstance, little or none of it based in fact. These absurd stories or theories are a way of calming that uncertainty when access to logical thinking gets impaired.
All of the contexts is important because it designs what you do right now. I had no idea about any of those things, and I just started doing what I was called to do and what I liked. As it turns out, almost everything I did played to manage the triggers and social needs of my people and myself.
As soon as I was able, I made “how are you call’s” to everyone I could think of; Friends, family, network members, and associates. I was seeing how they were doing, where they were living, what they were dealing with etc. I was also seeing what help they needed and connecting them wherever I could.
I didn’t know it, but I was helping with their trust need. Being part of the tribe is a basic need of people, those calls were a small dose of belonging. I didn’t stop doing those calls until I started seeing them in person. I never asked for anything, just how you were doing and what do you need.
When I finally started coming back to New Orleans, I would leave on Sunday night from Atlanta, drive 500 miles to New Orleans and return back to Atlanta Thursday afternoon. During the week, I started hosting group meetings at my friend’s law office to help people get moving, including me. We held them every week, and it was often a very moving experience. I invited clients and people I thought would be a good fit. The only cost was to bring a dish for dinner. I’ve only recently realized that a small dinner piece was hugely important. Having them bring it and not me provide it allowed each person to become important to the tribe in one of the only ways they could at that point.
I had participated in and led groups for many years. I knew meeting people where they were was important. During the survival stage, these meetings were all about using the experiences of the group to navigate housing, insurance, and the overwhelming psychological pressure that was present for everyone. It was months before we were able to get into any type of business or personal planning stage.
The groups were easily the most important and impactful thing I was doing for them and me because it was addressing their social needs. A fundamental of the trust need and how to manage it is through social connectedness. The meetings provided routine and dependability. The group discussions were able to calm some of their uncertainties and had the benefit of visually and emotionally establishing the tribe. They had a say in how things went, what we ate, or what happened at each meeting. The group bonded, and I managed the difficult situations. Everyone had a chance to speak. Their self-confidence was starting to come back when they saw they were meaningful, and what they said mattered. The groups were the perfect medicine.
So what did I do? Just a couple of things, really. “How are you calls”, and weekly groups focused on what they needed. I connected people in my groups and outside of my groups with the help and information they needed. I brought in other experts to explain some things relevant to their situations. I coached and led. I just made constant deposits in the “relationship accounts”.
I did that for 8 months before I made an “ask” and when I did, they couldn’t wait to help me. I was the first to the $100,000 goal by a mile. Most would say I made it in spite of the circumstances. However, I would say I made it because of the situation. During no other time would I have had an audience that captively, had the need for exactly what I was offering and that I could have such dramatic impact because of who I am, what I believe, and how I was prepared.
In jest, I think a leader’s unconscious brain prays for a time like this. It’s the opportunity to lead and be impactful, to show your tribe the value you have been trying to get across, and to establish a piece of your legacy. You wouldn’t wish for this, but it’s here. The moment has been thrust in your lap. If you respond by helping people with what’s important to them, I have no doubt you will have a positive result on many levels.
I hope the context and the story help you understand that some of the things going on with all of us are unavoidable. They are being stressed whether they know it or not, and it’s going to show up somewhere. Look to the social needs I listed and see if you can tell what need is being triggered and help them to manage it, theirs and yours.
Other facts to be aware of during this stage are
• People are wired 5x more likely to hear the negative side of things and engage with it.
• It’s nearly impossible to engage in vision or planning type thinking until the security needs are calmed.
• The people used to being leaders business owners, leaders, parents, etc. are extremely stressed. That sounds obvious, but they have the need, both real and perceived, to appear in control of the situation for the groups of people they represent and the areas of responsibility they havThey will suppress a whole lot. Suppressing their emotions will heighten their cortisol and its symptoms. In this case, more testiness, mental distancing, and reclusion. They will be in the room but not present in the room.
• People get more secluded and reliant oh their own thoughts. For example, it’s more likely leaders will come up with things on their own and move on them without collaboration or data collection. They really become susceptible to confirmation bias.
• People are not interested in what you are interested in. After” Katrina” I could have offered everything for free, and it would only have irritated them or downright ticked them off. Unless it was housing, a car, insurance relief etc; their focus was on security needs. Be sure when you ask the time is appropriate.
• My situation was at a time before Zoom, everyone having a website, widespread email use, not many had internet, and if you did, it was aol. We actually learned how to use text during that period. There are some tools that will be really useful, like Zoom. Whatever you do, be personal. Seeing you and hearing you is primary to security.
Coach, Multi-Business Owner and ex-Chef to US Presidents