Beyond Panic and Complacency

Stephen Tang

In the 1970s, two words could be used to describe the United States’ attitude toward oil: complacency and panic. This insight is attributed to former US Secretary of Defense and the first US Secretary of Energy, Dr. James Schlesinger, who experienced firsthand how quickly our nation moved between these two states during the Middle East crises. To effectively manage uncertain events, leaders must find a middle ground—one that allows them to remain alert and proactive while maintaining stability and avoiding overreaction.

Edward Slingerland believes this balance can be achieved by embracing a concept called “wu-wei” which means “action without action” or taking spontaneous action rather than deliberating too much. According to Slingerland, this approach helps leaders make decisions faster, more effectively, and more instinctively. In his 2015 book Trying Not to Try: The Ancient Chinese Art and Modern Science of Spontaneity, he explains that this concept is based on ancient Chinese philosophy which emphasizes the importance of letting go of control and allowing natural forces to take their course. It’s more about surrendering one’s ego and working towards solutions with the people and circumstances within a connected system than being a passive participant.

By understanding these crisis leadership concepts, leaders can better equip themselves to handle any situation they may face in the future with resilience and success. In times of intense stress and adversity, we need leaders who have the courage and ability to think critically while also relying on their instincts. This is an invaluable lesson for all crisis leaders as it encourages them to take necessary risks, trust their intuition, and find that perfect balance between effort and spontaneity. With this knowledge in hand, crisis leaders will be able to confidently tackle difficult obstacles that arise during a time of crisis. By learning to embrace wu-wei, they can make faster, more intuitive decisions that are beneficial for everyone involved.

I can relate to and build upon Slingerland’s work. In my upcoming book, A Test for Our Time: Crisis Leadership in the Next Normal, I will delve into how aspects of empowerment, accountability, compassion, and empathy can help form effective leadership when managing uncertainty. It all comes together in the central theme “lead whole people wholeheartedly.” Please look for the book when it launches in the spring.

#ATestForOurTime #CrisisLeadership #NextNormal

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