Fight, Flight, or Freeze? As a Leader, How Will You Show Up?

Here’s a fun exercise. Ask your significant other or your kid or a friend to sneak up behind you and scare you. Then see which reaction you have. Do you immediately start running, do you ball your fists up and raise your arm ready to swing it, or do you completely freeze up?

The amygdala is one of the oldest parts of the brain. It’s responsible for our fight, flight, or freeze response to danger. This chemical reaction in the brain and body has kept us alive as a species for a very long time. It kept us from becoming prey to a saber-toothed tiger and allowed us to avoid environmental dangers. It’s actually really cool how it works and so many of our reactions like sweaty palms or “butterflies in the stomach” are associated with this response.

Luckily we don’t face the same threats that we did 10,000 years ago, but that part of the brain is still alive and active. Today, the amygdala simply responds to a different set of fears and perceived danger.

The question is, how do you respond to danger in business? Do you choose to run away from the problem? Do you choose to simply do nothing and hope the situation somehow resolves itself? Or do you address the problem head-on?

If you look at many quotes from successful leaders in history, they almost use inaction as a four-letter word. If you’re a business leader and your go-to problem solving strategy is to simply do nothing about a problem or threat, or to run from it, then perhaps leadership may not be your calling.

In talent acquisition, there are MANY problems that desperately need to be solved. Unfortunately these problems will not get solved with “fleeing” or “freezing” as the response. It may seem like there is comfort in those responses, but the only way to truly solve those problems is to address them head-on.

Lastly, for the record, being a “freezer” or “flighter” is not a bad thing. You can even be a freezer or flighter when someone jumps out and scares you. But now that you’re aware of how that part of the brain works, you can make a conscious decision to “fight” problems when you face them at work. Is it scary? Yes. Is it uncertain? Yes. But as JFK once brilliantly said, “There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction.”