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  • Writer's pictureacoachsdiary


Anybody who has flown in a plane knows what turbulence is. Defined as violent or unsteady movement of air or water, you could be enjoying a nice, calm flight, hit an unstable pocket of air, and turbulence can wake you up from a good nap, interfere with your peace, and disrupt your flight.

The same, sudden jolt of turbulence can affect teams. One minute, your team is floating along, working together smoothly, collectively engaged in the work, and hitting all your goals, and the next minute, you hit an unsuspected pocket of adversity or change that derails your camaraderie, interrupts your peace, and brings conflict and tension into your locker room.

Life is a game of runs. When things are going well, the goal is to maintain the positive momentum by avoiding or effectively managing turbulence and continuing to do the right thing. When things are going bad, the goal is to stop or survive the turbulence by doing the next right thing and then building some positive momentum to get things moving on the right track.

In his book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell writes, “Momentum is a leader’s best friend because many times it is the only thing that makes the difference between losing and winning. When you have no momentum, even the simplest tasks seem impossible… On the other hand, when you have momentum on your side, the future looks bright, obstacles appear small, and troubles seem inconsequential.”

Running into turbulence is something that can derail your team’s positive momentum and send you down the wrong path, and resilience is how you manage the turbulence until it goes away and you get back to operating smoothly and in sync.

Turbulence is anything that causes stress to our physical, mental, or emotional health and well-being, and resiliency is our ability or capacity to withstand or recover quickly from difficulties (turbulence) in a positive, helpful way.

Resilient leaders can anticipate turbulence and avoid it without panicking, and they can absorb turbulence, manage it, and fly through it without allowing the turbulence to derail them or their teammates. Resilient leaders know that even the smoothest, well-planned flights might run into some turbulence, so they never panic, they just brace themselves, adjust, and help everyone on the team do so as well.


The first step in becoming a resilient leader is understanding how well you manage turbulence. There are 4 stages of managing turbulence:

1 - THE PANIC STAGE - If you are in the panic stage when turbulence happens, you panic and bring down the plane and everyone with you.

2 - THE NEGATIVE STAGE - If you are in the negative stage, you might not panic, but your negative words, energy, and actions can set the group back. If the negativity is strong enough, this stage could be worse than the panic stage.

3 - THE FREEZE STAGE - In the freeze stage, you freeze up when you face turbulence. This doesn’t help your team navigate adversity effectively, but it doesn’t hurt the team either. Freezing and staying neutral might be your best bet. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything nice at all.

4 - THE LIFT STAGE - This is the ideal stage. You feel and accept the turbulence, but you don’t let it negatively affect you or the team. You lift your team up so that you all fly together above the turbulence and stay on track.


The second step in effectively managing turbulence is identifying how you and your teammates react when they face turbulence.

1 - FIGHT MODE - You become an aggressive problem-solver.

2 - FLIGHT MODE - You run from the problems instead of facing them.

3 - FREEZE MODE - You slow down or stall.

4 - RABBIT-HOLE - You go down a deep dive trying to get to the bottom of the problem.

5 - SPIN MODE - You jump from thing to thing, topic to topic, or distraction to distraction, like watching Netflix while flipping between social media apps on your phone.

6 - ROBOT MODE - You shut down and lose all your emotional connections.

7 - HELPER MODE - You give advice (solicited or unsolicited).

In my experience, we have two modes we generally default to, and knowing your default mode and the default mode of others can help you identify turbulence early and proactively work to LIFT yourself and your teammates before the turbulence is able to affect you too much.


The third part is pausing. Facing turbulence and adversity can be a stressful, emotional experience, and if we don’t take the time to pause and give our mind and body the opportunity to reset, we can do long-term damage to our mental and physical health.

When we get hit with stress, our brains release chemicals through our bodies that create an adrenaline spike. Allostatic Load is when we get hit with more stress than we can handle and the demand doesn’t go away. This causes burnout and the disintegration of teams.

Taking strategic breaks can help our minds and bodies process the stress and emotions, reset, and even grow stronger:

  • MICRO-BREAK | A quick, 1-5 minute break may be all we need to reset.

  • MESO-BREAK | A slightly longer break, like a lunch break or a wellness day.

  • MACRO-BREAK | A longer break, like a weekend or a vacation.


Asking reflection/reset questions during a break is an effective way to not only reset but learn from your experience.

1 - WHAT HAPPENED - Taking a second to talk about all the facts can be a therapeutic first step.

2 - WHY DID IT HAPPEN - Understanding the why behind what happened helps gather everyone’s perspective and intent.

3 - WHO DID IT IMPACT AND HOW - Our intent doesn’t always match our impact, and measuring and assessing impact is the next step towards determining effective and appropriate next steps.

4 - WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN TO MAKE IT RIGHT - The knowledge and experiences of the group are better than the knowledge and experience of any one person. Giving everyone the opportunity to take ownership of the cause and effect of turbulence and the plan for getting past the turbulence can help increase both buy-in and commitment.


An effective way to proactively manage turbulence and build resilience is by providing some opportunities to role-play and plan for different scenarios.

Some questions you can ask include:

1 - What is the worst that could happen?

2 - What are the three things that will most likely happen?

3 - What is the percentage of _____ happening?

4 - If _____ happens, how will that affect you?

5 - If _____ happens, what is something you can do to manage or overcome it?

Turbulence, adversity, conflict, and tension are all normal when you are on a part of a team. They can rip your team apart, but if you have strong leadership, it can bring your team together. Resilience is the thing that keeps teams together and on the right path when they face turbulence.

Build your resilience and the resiliency of your teammates by lifting them up - not panicking and bringing them negativity - and help them navigate the turbulence by identifying triggers, taking appropriate breaks, and asking the right questions to help them reset, reflect, learn, and grow from the adversity.


1 - On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being great and 1 being not-so-great, how resilient are you?

2 - How resilient is your team?

3 - What are your and your team’s resilient bright spots?

4 - What are your and your team’s resilient blind spots?

For a printable PDF version of this, click here: Flying the Plane Through Turbulence

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