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On this episode, an FBI Agent & a CEO talk about staying calm under pressure. You’ll hear Sid Patel, Assistant Special Agent in Charge from the FBI, speak with Tim Junio, co-founder and CEO of cyber-security company, Expanse. The challenges they face are very different – one keeps us safe from mass shootings and terrorist incidents, while the other runs one of Forbes Magazine’s next billion dollar startups – yet, neither one is a stranger to stress or dealing with crisis. Listen to these two experts talk about how they stay cool when things start to heat up.
Katarina Jones: I’m Katarina Jones, and this is OtherWise Insights: lessons in leadership and entrepreneurship from the intersections of life.
On today’s episode, we’ll be talking about staying calm under pressure. Business leaders often find themselves in stressful situations from navigating conflict on teams, to giving investor updates, to being responsible for the livelihoods of their employees. Leaders are always working to maintain their composure in order to make good decisions and sustain their own health, while continuing to grow the company. I frequently get asked by the leaders I coach, how they can get better at this skill. So on today’s episode, we’ll be speaking with someone who has to stay calm when the stakes can literally mean life and death.
Sid Patel: My name is Sid Patel. I’m the assistant special agent in charge for San Francisco field office of the FBI.
Katarina Jones: And we’ll be comparing and contrasting with a business leader that’s always calm, cool, and collected.
Tim Junio: I’m Tim Junio. I’m the co founder and CEO of Expanse. Expanse is a cyber security company based in San Francisco, and we focus on internet attack surface management for very large companies and government agencies.
Katarina Jones: Before becoming a founder and CEO, Tim also honed his ability to navigate stressful environments through working at other high stakes organizations like the CIA and DARPA. So let’s see what we can learn from the two of them about staying calm under pressure.
Katarina Jones: For an FBI agent, there are lots of stressful situations that you might come across. Same thing for being a CEO in really different ways. So I’d love if you can just start by sharing what might be some of the things, some of the situations that you’d come across in the work that you do, that would be stressful just to give people an idea.
Sid Patel: I think many of my examples that I would use would be more of the chaos and chaotic situations. For instance, I was the first call from the FBI as part of the San Bernardino incident. Uh, it was a first major mass casualty incident on U.S. soil since 9-11. That involved quite a bit of teamwork, team engagement, collaboration, quick response, just thinking on the fly, based on the trust that you have with your people and the training you acquired over time. I also worked at the Las Vegas shooting and here the Gilroy incident. So there’s all types of stressors. Those are just some that deal with chaos, and shootings, and mass casualty.
But I think in everyday affairs and all of our jobs, there’s different levels of stress and different instances that we come across.
Tim Junio: There’s this Marc Andreessen quote about startups and your emotions and how you only feel two emotions: euphoria and terror. And so you’re always on kind of a high, cause things are going well or you’re unhappy because you have uncertainty or something just went poorly.
So I would say the recurring kind of stress being a startup founder comes from uncertainty more than anything else. So when you’re doing something for the first time, it’s very hard to know what the next increment will look like and kind of what’s around the corner. And so, from launching a first software product, you don’t know if anyone is going to buy it.
So can you do any sales? Then you want to do your first million in sales. And then it’s kind of hard to imagine, how do you get from your first million in sales to 10 million, and 10 to 20, and so on. And so thinking of the growth of the company, I would say the kind of two key areas of stress are first, just uncertainty of not knowing whether or not you’re going to rise to the challenge and be successful for getting to that next stage and whether or not you have the skills.
If you’ve never done the job before first time, you know, CEO, don’t know if, even if I’ve done an okay job to date, whether or not I’ll continue to do a good job over the next year.
And then the other key stress is dealing with lots of people. So I would say, through the different scaling motions of being a small group having a startup, you’re just, you know, three or four people at first. And then you’ve got 10 and then 20 and then 50 and a hundred plus. Becoming a manager for the first time has a lot of stress associated with it.
Katarina Jones: It’s interesting to hear. I mean, what you were saying about chaos, Sid, I feel like also has a lot to do with uncertainty, right?
Sid Patel: It does. And one thing Tim and I have in common is he had a prior government background. Now he’s in tech. I had a tech background and now I’m in government, and he hit it on the head in that uncertainty, that’s a major aspect to it.
And we’re all high achievers type A’s in these types of work that we’re in. And so when you’re dealing with uncertainty being dependent on other aspects, other team members, other individuals, there’s a trust aspect to it.
Katarina Jones: Yeah. And that trust is essential to kind of be able to manage and deal with the uncertainty or the chaos that you’re dealing with. The the trust of your team. I imagine particularly.
Sid Patel: That’s it for me on the government side, and I’m sure there’s a lot of similarities to what Tim endures every day, it’s just the trust of my team, the trust of my external partners, the trust of my local, state, federal partners that I work with. The police departments, ATF, DEA, all the different agencies, the U.S. Attorney’s office, along with fire and the other first responders. That’s one element.
But also trusting my team, that they’re going to do their role and get what needs to get done for the overall machine to go forward. I had a squad of about 15 to 20 people, agents task force officers, and I trusted all of them to get the job done. They were the best and the brightest, they did the work. Um, so that was a trust aspect to it.
The training had to do with just the muscle memory you build over time for an active shooter situations or bomb going off or whatever it may be. But again, when the real thing happens, the real situation, it’s uh… just hope that muscle memory kicks in because the real situation is completely different in many ways than training can be.
Tim Junio: Almost ironically, I think it, for many people, it takes a lot of discipline to de-stress or to be able to cope with stress and respond when you’re facing a really difficult situation. And so some of the best practices that I’ve tried to bring into my own life and share with folks at work and more broadly in the tech community, are around creating some routines for yourself and kind of recognizing when you’re in a stressful moment and new to actually deal with that.
And it’s not difficult to understand. I mean, it’s, we’re talking about like meditation, getting enough sleep, taking breaks, understanding that you’re context-switching, giving yourself a moment and just pausing to kind of collect your thoughts and grasp your emotional state. Be self aware and know that you’re dealing with some kind of a stressful moment and just shifting your mindset to, okay, I need to address the, you know, current problem and get past it.
And it’s okay. I’ve been through this before. And so have lots of other people. And having a good kind of support network with people who are mentors or, you know, friends from other companies who have gone through different stages, there are a lot of best practices out there for how to try and create repeatable motions.
And I think that’s the key, like kind of having things that you can fall back on and segment your psychology a little bit. So one of the hardest things I think any entrepreneur can do to themselves, and it’s probably the case for people in any busy profession, is constantly agonizing over whatever is that stressful topic. Not being able to fall asleep because you’re worried about something, not being able to take a break and actually get out of that context to reflect on what it is that’s bothering you. So the routines, like going for a run, you know, going to the gym, I like to weight lift personally, doing something with your partner. People go surfing here in California, whatever it is, having something that’s separate from your work life.
And doesn’t have you attached to your phone. Doesn’t have you attached to your computer. Doesn’t have you fretting over the problem constantly, I think is key so that you can kind of, you know, get up again and be ready to address the next set of problems.
Sid Patel: I think you hit it on the head with self awareness.
That’s a big part of it as well, knowing that you’re in the incident, knowing that you may be behaving and acting differently than you normally do and how you adjust to that.
Katarina Jones: What do you do to help yourself recognize, like, this is the moment that I’m feeling that I’m feeling triggered, I’m feeling stressed or feeling anxious. Like you said, Tim, it’s having that moment of, okay, I’m recognizing that this is that moment. And then being able to handle it from there. I think the recognition is the hardest part for many people.
Tim Junio: I think you know when you’re being a little curt. I mean, you have to pay attention obviously to other people’s body language too, and know how they’re interacting with you and what kind of impact you’re having on everyone around you. Like just a behavioral aspect of having a, kind of a, I don’t like to use the word like hierarchical, but there’s a little bit of a hierarchical relationship if you’re a CEO, like if you’re in my position. So trying to understand the effect that I’m having on somebody in a conversation who works for the company, where if they’re not on, you know, the executive team, I don’t interact with them every day and on a regular basis. So knowing that I have to kind of be in a different,
you know, state of mind to be particularly attuned to how is this conversation going? Other people are some of the best cues a for how you yourself are feeling. And being responsive to that and taking a moment and changing your mindset.
Like what conversation am I having right now? And kind of leaving the prior one behind you is important. So I would say one of the best lessons I feel like I’ve learned in the last few years is just knowing when I’ve had a moment that was frustrating, or that made me angry, or that was upsetting somehow, knowing, okay, I need to take like, you know, two or three minutes and just recognize, okay, what is the next thing I’m doing?
And focused on that. And not let myself stay too focused on whatever that last conversation was, has been a good trick. And actually the CEO, I don’t want to say who it is, cause I don’t know if he intended it for it to be a public comment, gave me that advice and I’ve tried very hard to follow it.
The way that he told the story was if he has a really bad day at work, he circles the block until he feels in the correct state of mind to walk through the front door because he doesn’t want to take to his family the, you know, anxiety and frustration that he had just had at the office.
Sid Patel: That’s actually great advice.
And I know every situation is slightly different. I know for mine, I still remember that December 2nd, 2015, when the San Bernardino shooting was occurring. And that first day I was at work for a good 36 hours straight. I was exhausted. I wasn’t thinking straight. And it took my team, took my boss to say, Sid, go get some sleep. Get some sleep.
It’s going to go on for several weeks now. Get some sleep and come back refreshed. So, a lot of times it is just self-awareness, but sometimes you just need the right team to remind you that you need to get some sleep so you can move on further the next day.
Katarina Jones: Tim, you were speaking to, you know, going on runs, and meditation, and things like that. Which I feel like are great resources for stress over prolonged periods of time. And then there’s acute stressful moments, right? Things where it’s, you know, in the moment something massive is going wrong or something has happened.
What kinds of, are there techniques or tricks that you use there, or is that really just falling back on maybe the muscle memory of the training that you’ve had in the past and, your team, trusting your team?
Tim Junio: I like referring to building up kind of a buffer of energy for when things go wrong.
So I feel like there’s not a good answer to your question. Yes. You have coping mechanisms personally, but if you’re dealing with a crisis, it just sucks. Like it sucks for anybody who’s not a psychopath that has literally a different brain brain structure. So if you’re processing the emotional response of anxiety or fear, I feel like if you’re in that situation chronically you’re going to burn out and fail.
Like, there’s just, you just can’t go through life constantly being anxious. Or, at least I don’t know anybody who has. You will reach a, you know, kind of crisis point where it all sort of breaks down. So when I was talking about meditation and exercise, a lot of that is keeping it as part of your routine for when you’re not in a crisis, because that helps you build up your kind of emotional reserve.
So when you are going through a tough time, you’re probably going to sleep less. It’s going to be harder to fall asleep and stay asleep if you’re very worried about something at work. But that can’t be, you know, all the time. So when I talked about the buffer of energy, the way that I think of that concept is just maintaining a baseline level that is actually maybe a little less than a hundred percent, because you know you’re going to be surging to 120% sometimes and you want to be able to make it through those moments if you’re in any kind of a high pressure profession.
Sid Patel: Yeah. I think another aspect is just training and experiences. I know when I went into the Las Vegas shooting incident to help Las Vegas, that field office out, or here in San Francisco, when we had the Gilroy incident, there were a lot of experiences that I was able to draw upon for my prior experiences of work in San Bernardino, or working the Mumbai attacks or working some other cases that I worked. Just to draw upon those, draw upon how I’m going to react to them, what some of my areas of improvement are, what some of my strengths are, and be able to draw upon those. And then also to build a team based on whatever areas that I am lacking to be able to bring other individuals from my team that have strengths in those areas.
So training, the trust that you have in your team, but again, as Tim mentioned a great point, having a balance in your life during your normal days, exercising, whether it be your personal life. That goes along the way as well.
Katarina Jones: Thinking about moments, you know, crisis moments like we talked about, when you’re trying to stay calm, and be able to make the decisions that you need to make, how do you kind of balance the need to stay calm and keep others around you calm and also expressing urgency to others?
Sid Patel: I think that’s more of your leadership style, right? So I think, you know, as Tim is a leader for growing his organization, and I have my leadership role here, it’s all in your style and how you display that.
I think it’s, I think it should come naturally over time in the way that you’re used to collaborating, your communication skills, the fact that you can be decisive. Indecision, yields failure over time, it just does, does . Um, the fact that you can apply a lot of those skills that you learned over time and be able to push those along.
So for instance, in a chaotic situation, if you had the right team, they’re all gonna have a sense of urgency. So that is not something you’ll have to explain to them and they’ll know by your actions. Because attitude does reflect leadership. By your actions of being firm and decisive, they’re going to know they need to be the same. So I think that piece comes inherently.
I think that the calmness, that’s what differentiates many of the, many of the leadership roles that we have, and many of the leaders that we have. And that just comes down to how you’re communicating your message. If you’re frantic and excited, of course, that’s going to excite your troops.
If you’re rushing from one place to another, they’re going to feel a little panicked, but if you can just stay, you’re calm. Um, there’s some great books on this. I mean, there’s this leadership traits by Abraham Lincoln or just a movie about Lincoln. He always comes in during chaotic situations and puts a joke through or says it in a soothing calming fashion.
Although it’d be in a movie, it probably depicts many of his leadership traits that made him so great. I think that’s what it comes down to as a leader. Can you keep your calm under pressure? Can you message it in a way where your folks are inspired and they want to follow you? That’s that’s a key point to leadership in itself.
And you can only do that if you’ve had the trust of your people, and you trust your people, the proper training and experiences. That goes a long way.
Tim Junio: I agree with Sid regarding leadership style and self awareness of your leadership style is the most important variable. And part of that is also knowing what your team needs and different groups of people have different needs.
And it depends on what the kind of crisis is. So if nobody thinks it’s a crisis except you, and it really is a crisis, well, then you’d probably be best served by being pretty intense, because you do actually want to get people emotionally charged up. Right? Cause they’re not emotionally charged enough.
And then if the opposite is true, people are panicking and really in the grand scheme of things, it’s not that big of a deal, you want to have the opposite pole. So kind of depends on the context from a leadership perspective. So totally agree with that. Being self aware and having a style which could be like kind of filling that space, that emotional need that people have in that crisis, while still being authentic is, is the number one priority.
I’ll pick one other variable, though, which is just an organizational context one. So depending on what kind of group of people you’re talking about, you’re probably going to want different responses and crises. So if you’re talking about a government agency, so like the FBI or, you know, I worked at CIA, you have a different kind of depth of emotion to draw on because you can create urgency associated with the mission.
So at Expanse, we’re lucky enough to have a very mission-focused culture because of the types of customers we have and the security work that we do.
If you’re an HR app, it’s probably harder to do, right? So you have to find some other source of energy for your team where the mission itself is probably not going to be key. And instead it’s not letting each other down, making sure that you maintain the, you know, team cohesion. You want to be a, you know, a high performing group of people.
So whatever it is, you have to be tied to the identity of the organization, in addition to having the leadership style down. And both of those are things that you, I think, learn with time there isn’t, unfortunately, a good set of training that is going to figure all that out for you. It can certainly help and maybe reduce the time it takes, but really you have to live through some crises, with people you care about before you figure out the answers to those questions, right?
Sid Patel: I 100% percent agree with what Tim had mentioned. And one thing you’ll notice in a lot of our conversations is about team. Teamwork. Because it really is about the people that you work with. And if for myself, at least, and I think Tim can speak similarly, it’s about the people that you hire, the people that are working with you because I’m only as good as my people.
I’m only as good as the supervisors that work for me, and their squads of people that work for them. It’s the people that make the FBI and make it as great as it, as it is.
Katarina Jones: I’m hearing what you’re saying about the leadership styles and, Sid, you mentioned that that’s really what sets people apart in keeping people calm and having, you know, being able to speak that language of inspiring people, motivating people, helping them feel the purpose, and keeping them calm and all of that.
Is there, you know, are there any particularly good examples that you’ve seen, or that you yourself have experienced or been a part of where you felt like it was really helping to motivate people or keep them calm or help them get through the crisis?
Sid Patel: Without putting them on a spot, but I can tell you my boss here with the FBI in San Francisco. He’s, always has confidence in you, always is looking for a win-win situation, always has a positive attitude to try to come to a positive outcome. There’s a lot to be said when you’re working every day to know that your boss has your back. That no matter what happens, he’s going to get your back and look for win-win situation.
So, I mean, I’ve had several examples of this in the FBI with my boss here. When I worked San Bernardino, my boss was amazing. She had a calmness and coolness to her during these chaotic times that are really very rare in most leaders. She did a great job of just bringing that calmness to the situation when things were chaotic.
I know my boss here, very similar attitude. I think if you have those qualities of wanting team engagement, collaboration, if you’re decisive, if you’re communicating things in a positive manner to inspire people, to want them to be the best that they can be. Those are some traits that I’ve seen across the board that go a long way.
Tim Junio: I am. I was trying to reflect on what have I observed as the most important qualities when I was thinking of who are the best leaders I know or I’ve experienced, I would say, first what Sid mentioned in terms of having confidence, like people want their leaders to know that what they are doing.
And even if you are not sure, like part of competence in leadership is admitting that the answer is ambiguous, but you’re gonna figure it out together, et cetera. So like that kind of authenticity, you want to have a sense of confidence regarding the outcome, right? Like even if the answer isn’t clear.
So I would say of people who I’ve interacted with who I would consider best leaders, making you feel like they are making you better. And that they’re going to drive better outcomes, is one of the most important qualities. The second I would say, is them actually caring about you. Knowing that somebody is actually interested, they want to know about who you are as a person. They care about you beyond the transaction of your job in the moment or whatever you’re getting through right then. And you have some kind of relationship that transcends what is actually happening.
Like they actually care about you on a, you know, Multi-decade time, horizon, I think makes a critical difference. So when I think about the people who have been most impactful to me, it’s folks who I think have set aside the time that made me feel like I was special. And maybe they’re doing that hundreds of times a week, but nevertheless, if they can make you feel special, and make you feel like, they actually want to help you improve and grow as a person. That is always going to make you want to sacrifice more and kind of get further during an emotionally difficult moment than you would otherwise.
Katarina Jones: Which I imagine speaks to what Sid was saying earlier, too, around knowing that they have your back as well.
Sid Patel: Yeah. I think that genuine sincerity is a major aspect to it and hearing the FBI and I’d say most jobs in general integrity. That’s a major aspect for someone that I want to work for. They’ve got to have integrity and be genuine and sincere and truly care about their people.
Katarina Jones: Tim earlier, you mentioned one of the things was kind of being able to process, like people who loop or, you know, can’t fall asleep at night because they’re feeling so anxious about, you know, whatever is on their mind. I’d love to hear, you know, everybody experiences and deals with stress differently after the fact. And being able to process and move forward.
I’m curious what that looks like for you, and how do you manage to break that cycle? If there’s something that’s on your mind? Or how do you kind of process the experience that you had if there was a crisis?
Tim Junio: So I think one of the most important things in my repertoire is at the end of the day having a point at which I stop. When possible. Which is actually most of the time, like I was mentioning that kind of buffer for crises.
So during a crisis, maybe you don’t really have a lot of time between the end of the day and going to bed. And you’re just kind of like grinding and you get all the sleep that you can. But on a kind of regular basis, I think one of the best things you can do is to say I’m going to stop at, whatever it is for you personally. For me, it’s usually pretty late. Like one o’clock is my stop time.
And then I’m going to read for 20 or 30 minutes and then go to sleep. And it doesn’t have to be reading. It could be TV, it could be speaking with your partner, whatever it is. But I think having some kind of context switch. Where you stop and you actively make the decision that I have done everything that I am going to do today, and now I am kind of in that unwinding mode. It sounds incredibly simple, but it’s amazing how many people don’t do it. And I, myself, was a victim to this mentality of just, I have to complete everything on my, to do list every day. When I was earlier in my career and it turned out that I got less done over long periods of time because of how I wasn’t replenishing my energy and getting enough sleep. So I used to make it to do list every day and I would not go to asleep until the to-do list was done. And for me, like an emotionally satisfying day was I finished my to-do list early, and so now I can do something else, you know. And that’s how I behaved for the first couple of years of doing Expanse.
And then I had kind of an epiphany of, you know, this isn’t sustainable, and instead I’ve got a to-do list on a longer time horizon. And I’m actually going to be more productive over a week, a month, a year, time horizon.
Cause you get compounding benefits to taking care of yourself. So I’ve totally changed. And now I have, unless of course there is a crisis, a different arc to my to-do list and will stop every day at a kind of predetermined stopping point and then separate the end of the Workday from when I go to bed.
So, again, that’s very simple, but actually having the discipline to do that, especially when you’re worried about whether or not you’re doing a good job and getting enough done is actually more, more rare than I would have guessed.
It’s amazing to me, how little thought people put into how they structure and their lives and just gotta get carried by the wave of what’s going on.
Sid Patel: So you’re exactly right. And I used to do the same thing. And I used to have the same to do list and I’d be stressed out and I’d have days where maybe one or two of the items out of the 10 would be completed and I’d want to stay and complete the whole thing.
But you’re exactly right. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Now, unless there’s a chaotic situation, you know, that that are far and few, that you’re responding to. It truly is important to keep that in perspective. I have so many days, my distractions where I’ll have a list of five things, I want to get done.
Five major things. I’ll maybe hit two or three of them because of all the other 20 other distractions that have come in. So you hit it on the head right there.
Katarina Jones: Is there anything that you would say to people who want to learn how to get better at this? How to get better at staying calm, under pressure and helping their teams stay calm and things like that?
Tim Junio: I think actually making it part of your work to consider how you take care of yourself is a critical mindset shift, like being deliberate about this matters. People who are not deliberate about self care, but put themselves into high pressure roles. I think end up in trouble. Like they ended up at some crisis point.
Reflecting on, I moved to Silicon Valley in 2012. So even before starting Expanse, I did a fellowship at Stanford. And so in this arc, I’ve met a lot of very successful people. And then a lot of people who just kind of like plateaued and they were never able to like get to the next level. And one of the common themes among people who just couldn’t figure out like how to get to the next level was that they burned out.
Somehow they burned out emotionally, they burned out on stress, they burned out on the nature of the work and they weren’t excited by it anymore. And I think almost everybody I know who has come up with a deliberate set of coping mechanisms, like this is how I’m going to manage my energy, this is how I’m going to manage my stress, has advanced in their career and in life.
I think it’s part of a growth mindset of self-improvement. Not just to learn about whatever it is that you have chosen to do as your profession, but also for your personal growth to be, how am I becoming better? Which means different things to other people.
But you need to make the time to think about it and learn about it. And there’s a lot of literature out there that can help you. You’re not doing whatever you’re doing for the first time.
Like definitely there’ve been many people throughout history who have had it worse than you. So there’s a lot that you can learn from mentors and from just even like reading Medium posts, reading Arianna Huffington’s work. I love her work on managing energy. So I would say that the first step is definitely to make a deliberate choice.
That part of your personal growth and personal productivity frontier has to be “how am I going to sustain myself as a high performing person for decades?” Not just, “how am I going to learn a new programming language,” or whatever. You have to make time for how you yourself are becoming better as a performer.
Sid Patel: You’ve got to want to grow and keep learning. And that could be by reading books that could be by talking to your peers, talking to your mentors, that could be experiences. One thing that we do at the FBI, and we do a pretty good job of it, is asking for feedback and debriefings.
So every time we do an arrest, every time we conduct a search warrant, every time there’s any type of chaotic situation like San Bernardino, we discuss what were the lessons learned? What could we have done better? What did we do wrong? And a lot of it has to do with trust. Because people just inherently do not want to speak to what they failed at, and what they’ve done improperly, and what they could have done better, unless there is a culture of trust where you can speak openly.
So one is debriefing and just learning from each other, learning from the mistakes we’ve made. I’ll be honest, most of the learnings I’ve done have been through my failures. I think it’s important to fail. It’s important to fall. It’s important to have those mishaps, but it’s more important to learn how to get back up and then succeed again.
There are many things I would have done in situations that we’ve had in the past, whether it be San Bernardino, Las Vegas, there’s a lot of great things we did, but a lot of things that I would have done differently as well. And every time I’ve had a new situation, I’ve learned from it. And it’s a variety of situations.
I’ve dealt with individuals, unfortunately dying by suicide. I’ve dealt with individuals that have died on the job, I’ve dealt with individuals that are just trying to understand a massive situation like San Bernardino and why it could occur, and trying to resolve it themselves. But I’ve dealt with all those emotional impacts that people have.
And by learning those failures and successes, I’ve become a better leader. So again, it’s feedback, mentorship, wanting to grow, but more than that, it truly is, it’s important to fail once in a while and learn how to get back up.
Katarina Jones: I would be curious, do you have any questions for each other? You know, understanding you come at the subject from really different perspectives or maybe similar cause you just swapped places.
Tim Junio: I would actually love to ask you a couple of questions.
What proportion of people can actually operate in your profession? Like how many people can cope? Like how many people actually can confront the reality of heinous acts, as opposed to like seeing it on television and be able to cope psychologically and have a career like you’re having a career?
Like how many people self select out early, because it turns out humans are actually very negatively predisposed for dealing with murder and, you know, go down the list of things that you have to worry about?
Sid Patel: Yeah. That’s a great question. And I wish I actually had a specific answer for it and I don’t. The truth is, I find that people go into professions like the FBI, or law enforcement, or first responders, because they want to be impactful.
In that way, they want to go into the fires when everyone else is running away from it. They want to go towards the gunfire when people are running from it. They have this mentality of wanting to be protectors. And actually, we take a psychological assessment before we joined the FBI, and you find that most of the individuals have a protector type mentality.
I forget if it’s a Myers-Briggs or one of those personality tests, but it shows that many of the individuals that joined this type of profession want to actually help them be protectors. Just like in the medical field, they want to help in a different way. So I often find that a lot of these skills are learned over time, a lot of these situations are coped in easier because you’re doing it in a team environment.
If I have a difficult situation where I’m dealing with a homicide or dealing with not a homicide per se, but a mass casualty, I’ve got others that I can go to. I’ve got peers, I’ve got mentors that have already gone through it. Whether it be, maybe they endured 9-11, maybe they endured some other situations.
We have resources for counseling services, but a lot of it is just learning on the job. But I do find inherently people that joined the FBI, like I said, come into it for those reasons. They want to be impactful and they want to help. They’re not following the money, they’re not following some other avenues that other folks may be interested in. And there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just they truly want to help those in need.
Katarina Jones: I can understand, Sid, why team is so critical in the type of field that you work in. Especially not just, you know, trusting that someone’s going to have your back or that they know what they’re doing, but also they’ve been through the things that you’ve been through and being able to talk to them and work through those things together, and lean on people when you need to, when you’re processing those really stressful situations. I can imagine having that team is critical for that too.
Sid Patel: Absolutely. And it ends up being that your squad or where you’re working ends up being your family outside of your family.
The conversations that I have with them, many of them are classified. I can’t even talk about it at home if it’s terrorism-related, national security-related, so you ended up building those bonds and friendships. But it’s really no different than other avenues. Like the tech industry, certain companies, where you have a subject matter expertise in a certain area that your significant other may not understand, but at work they do.
And they understand the tempo and what you’re fueled by, what you’re trying to achieve to the next step. I can empathize just from the standpoint that I was in the tech world for several years and can empathize, and I love that type of chaos as well.
So there’s a lot of similarity between what Tim and I do, but just different industries.
Katarina Jones: So there you have it from the experts, a few key takeaways:
Surround yourself with both a team that you trust and with mentors that have been been through similar things before. That can help you handle a crisis in the moment and process after the fact.
Create an intentional routine to build up your emotional reserve during the good times, so that you have energy and presence of mind to fall back on in the moments of crisis.
Learn from previous challenges and draw on those moments as points of reference. The experience, the muscle memory, and the lessons learned can all help.
After a stressful situation, give yourself a moment to switch contexts. Shake it off and be intentional about how you enter the next situation.
And finally, the way that you communicate during a high pressure situation can set you apart as a great leader. Some tips: Speak calmly, yet be decisive, use the mission to inspire action, and be aware of your team’s needs so that they can also operate effectively.
A huge thank you to Sid and to Tim for sharing their wise insights with others.
If you like this episode, please subscribe for more. I’m Katarina Jones, and this has been OtherWise Insights.
Adventures by A Himitsu