Stepping back to see the big picture

Lessons from an emergency room doctor on how to think clearly during a crisis.

“Now that we've stitched up the head wound, let's step back for a second and consider what's going on…”

The words of the ER physician, standing attentively in a pair of green scrubs, instantly calmed the family. Despite the obvious gash to the back of the patient’s head, they harbored deeper concerns of further injury.

Instead of ignoring them, the doctor embraced their concerns.

At the same time, he focused on the obvious priority: stop the bleeding. He also ruled out internal brain bleeding and personally stapled the gash on the crown of the patient’s head shut.

Once that was done… the immediate problem solved, the doctor stopped. He got quiet for a second.

For a brief moment, time stood still against the backdrop of a busy emergency room. 

He leaned in.

The doctor slowly hovered his hands around the person lying on the stretcher in an encompassing gesture. His head down, eyes in a soft gaze, he suggested that everyone step back, take a breath and make sure the patient was okay

A brilliant move on the part of the doctor, it holds true for security professionals, too.

Given the demands, pace, and changing landscape that marks the security profession, it’s easy to get tunnel vision. Fighting fires and responding to “urgent” requests is considered normal. But that doesn’t make it acceptable.

While fighting the next fire, take a moment to consider the big picture.

Once the adrenaline of the first action wears off, step back and make sure things are okay. Confirm that what grabbed the attention was the problem, and not a symptom. Or maybe there are multiple problems. More things that need attention to maintain healthy function.

This is a chance to breathe. A moment of reflection in the midst of solving problems. An opportunity to review the chain of events and consider the totality of the situation.

Getting wrapped up in the immediate often means focusing on symptoms instead of problems. It means wasting valuable time and money instead of focusing on key tasks and activities that increase business value.

Creating the habit of stepping back to consider the big picture is essential for career and team success. It matters when fighting fires, communicating the value of projects, fighting for budget, and even when applying for a promotion.

After stepping back, the doctor asked a series of questions. He conducted a basic examination. His brow furrowed a bit. After considering the situation, he ordered a chest x-ray. It was a good call, since he discovered a life-threatening lung infection that required immediate treatment. He took only a few minutes to stop and look past the head wound.

Good thing he did. Practicing a moment of calm during crisis ensured a healthy recovery.

What will stepping back to see the big picture do to promote the health of your organization? How will practicing calm in crisis advance your career?

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