“we can’t really prevent crises from happening; it’s not a question of if a leader will encounter crisis, it’s a question of when” — Mandy Barbee
In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of dealing with crisis and how to adapt and overcome. The context of this series is the physical and financial fallout that resulted from the COVID 19 pandemic. Crisis management is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases, it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Mandy Barbee.
Mandy Barbee, MA Economics & CCHT, is a transformation and healing expert who has helped hundreds of clients across the globe to overcome anxiousness and thrive in business, health, and life. Mandy’s signature method is the natural result of certifications in clinical hypnotherapy, neurolinguistics, and mind-body connection intersecting with 15 years of leadership experience in three commercial industries and the US military. She is obsessed with co-creating massive, lasting & positive changes with others using practical actions and fun, natural tools.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?
Thank you so much for talking with me, Chris! My story is about finding balance between meeting others’ needs and meeting my own, between seeking others’ approval and seeking my own. I was born to very young parents, and I have four younger sisters. Raised in the southeastern USA, I saw a wide range of economic conditions. I was taught to work as hard as you can to get what you want, to appreciate whatever you have, and never to take today’s opportunities for granted. Although we didn’t have a lot of extra of anything, I didn’t go without many things I needed, either. It was easy to look around and see: “Others have it worse than we do…” This observation on my part set the stage for the major difficulties of my early life, and was also a perfect setup for me to discover my greatest gifts and purpose: to help others free themselves from the self-imposed prison of minimizing their own pain.
And what are you doing today? Can you share a story that exemplifies the unique work that you are doing?
My work today is one of the greatest sources of joy in my life. I help people regain personal control: I am a healer. In today’s modern culture, we often don’t recognize the control we have over our own thought processes, and yet it is by these thought processes that we create our lives’ outcomes. What I do is use people’s intrinsic desire, their innate capability for imagery, and the trust we build together to help them reconnect with inner control and make profound, positive changes in hours, not years.
One story that comes to mind is of a man I was coaching one-on-one a few years ago. In his industry, he was repeatedly the number one salesperson nationally, but he suffered from atrocious anxiety. When we were just beginning to work together, even within the first hour, I asked him to use a different mental tool than he was practiced in using: I asked him to relax his awareness for a moment. He told me quite proudly, “I am a control freak,” as if to say, “That isn’t going to happen, Mandy!” I asked him how that was working for him, and we had a good long laugh, because we both knew, it wasn’t. This moment was the perfect opportunity to share with him that gaining a new skill doesn’t take away control, it only adds to the control we already have. I teach people how to add new tools to their belts, so that their personal (or inner) control expands, and they can lead their actions, make their choices, and steer their physiology more adeptly.
Can you tell us a bit about your military background?
Gladly, Chris. I felt called to military service for a number of reasons. I saw the US military as a fair field of play, where hard work was prized, and I could share values with others. When I was 17 years old I entered Basic Training at the US Air Force Academy. I had the opportunity to exchange with the Spanish Air Force Academy for a semester, and I also studied abroad in the Czech Republic. I graduated from the Academy with distinction and declined a pilot spot in order to serve as an Aircraft Maintenance Office. Maintenance Officers are trusted with some of the greatest leadership responsibility of any specialty immediately upon commissioning. I wanted to impact people’s lives in a positive way, and this was how I chose my track. I served for more than 5 years with Langley Air Force Base’s F22-A units on the flightline and in the backshops, as well as in Israel and Jordan working in Strategic Plans with the State Department. Without a doubt, some of the best people I’ve ever known, I met while in the service.
Can you share the most interesting story that you experienced during your military career? What “take away” did you learn from that story?
The most interesting story I carry with me from my time in the service is a composite one: a layered picture of humans working together, rain or shine. For more than a decade I saw individuals sacrifice their own needs, wants, and even at times individual values for the greater good of a unit. It was like a human symphony creating a great sound, and at this time in my life I got to be one of the instruments. My take away from my service is deep respect for what harmony people can achieve when we work together. Although structure dominates the military experience, I remember so much creativity, personality, and invention; the memories I have are brightly colored by the contributions of individuals.
We are interested in fleshing out what a hero is. Did you experience or hear about a story of heroism, during your military experience? Can you share that story with us? Feel free to be as elaborate as you’d like.
Sure, Chris. I served before “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed in 2010. The most heroic act I saw during my military experience was the unflinching service of gay and lesbian service members in the face of institutionalized and legalized discrimination. To show up day in and day out, nights, weekends, and holidays, and serve a system that actively withholds benefits from you requires a strength, fortitude, stamina, and tolerance I will never fully understand. I worked side by side with people who I knew to be homosexual, but who could not outwardly own their identity in that way for many years. As I look back now with more age and experience in tow, I feel awe and respect at the sacrifice that surely required.
Based on that story, how would you define what a “hero” is? Can you explain?
A hero is effectively (meaning: sustainably) self-sacrificing. In this way, a hero can support others while supporting his or her own needs as well! Martyrs sacrifice self to the point of personal detriment, and while important, they cannot support shared intentions over a longer period of time. From my perspective, our heroes are the ones who achieve an end benefitting another or the greater good, without completely exhausting themselves in the process. This is my broader definition of a hero, and it certainly applies to the story I just shared.
Do you think your experience in the military helped prepare you for business or leadership? Can you explain?
I believe that with conviction! The military often attracts those cut from the same cloth, and that cloth is self-responsible, dedicated, organized, and resilient. I definitely believe these traits serve a person in business and leadership.
At the same time Chris, every strength — every positive trait that we have — is like a tool: it can be used to construct, and it can be used to tear down. When a person doesn’t have bulletproof self-esteem, or has chinks in the armor of personal value and worth, then even positive strengths like “dedication” may be turned back on the person and can be damaging. I can give you an example from my own experience. One of my greatest strengths and advantages has always been my work ethic. It carried me for decades through good times and bad, and my professional experience was objectively a string of successes. Before I took the steps to build a healthy self-worth however, there were many times that same work ethic helped me to run myself into the ground.
When I discovered you can systematically rebuild and repair self-esteem, and I witnessed the leverage that self-esteem has in shaping a person’s life experience and their potential, I became open to the idea that helping people recover their intrinsic confidence and inner sense of control was my purpose. Now I am fortunate to help people in business and leadership do that every day.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Two people were there for me like no one else could be at a crucial juncture in my life: the time when I was interviewing for my first job after leaving the military! These two people were my father and his cousin. I feel a lot of gratitude and emotion as I recall this period of time, remembering specifically when my father offered me a job in his disaster restoration company, and I took it without hesitation. You see, I have always taken actions by faith (or by feel or by instinct, however you want to describe it), without spending terribly much effort on hedging my bets or fussing with safety nets. Leaving the military was no different for me: for better or worse, I left the service because I felt it was time, not after I had carefully arranged my “next job.” My father offered me a job to bridge the gap before I landed a “next job”, and the moment he did I felt relief from a stress I hadn’t known I was bearing. His ability and willingness to employ me allowed me to explore what was best for me long term and significantly contributed to me ultimately connecting with my life purpose.
In the months that followed, his cousin, Mike Barbee spent countless hours helping me to prepare for interviews in my transition to leadership in the private sector. This as well was a very vulnerable moment for me professionally. Having someone in your corner when you really need them is the greatest gift. To this day I seek Mike’s good counsel whenever I make an important decision.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out how to survive and thrive in crisis. How would you define a crisis?
I love where we are going with this Chris. I define a crisis as an unfamiliar and difficult situation, of great importance and immediacy.
Before a crisis strikes, what should business owners and leaders think about and how should they plan?
Often as business owners, we are treating normal daily experiences as crises! It’s a real hazard. Gary Vaynerchuk has widely illuminated an insight that I share with clients all the time, and that is, our inability to contextualize time is the real culprit. If we as business owners and leaders can see the bigger picture in context, we see that crises are inevitable. Operating from that level of awareness, we easily plan, prepare, and budget for difficulty as a part of our daily work. Doing that enables us to spend more time in a the proactive space of action, less in the reactive.
There are opportunities to make the best of every situation and it’s usually based on how you frame it. In your opinion or experience, what’s the first thing people should do when they first realize they are in a crisis situation? What should they do next?
My advice: Look up! Like we were just talking about, we can’t really prevent crises from happening; it’s not a question of if a leader will encounter crisis, it’s a question of when. When crisis occurs, my best advice is to check out a perspective that includes more information than what you have right in front of you. Every person who’s in any way connected to a crisis has a unique perspective on what’s happening. Each perspective offers different information. Part of a leader’s job is to allow all these important pieces of information to surface so that solutions become known as quickly as possible. This communication process is made more difficult when people are under duress and emotions are high, so this is one of the most delicate, important, and difficult aspects of leadership during crisis.
What do you believe are the characteristics or traits needed to survive a crisis?
A group needs Experience and Perspective to survive a crisis, and both relate to the conversation we were just having about information being key. Perspective is exactly what I shared moments ago — gaining additional viewpoints. A leader can step out of fear perspective and into a more powerful and resourceful problem solving state of mind simply by shifting personal perspective. Fear flows from imagining a negative outcome playing out. A leader knows this and remains present to “what is” without pouring thought, time, resources and emotion into what “might be.” This is what I mean by Perspective.
As to Experience being a trait beneficial to surviving a crisis, I’ll give you an example from rock climbing. When I’ve climbed a rock route before, I have information at my fingertips (no pun intended!) which makes it easier for me to climb. We call that information “beta”. In climbing, it’s universally understood that if you climb a route “onsite” (for the first time, unresearched, and without receiving prior beta), it’s much harder than if you’ve got beta. When a team brings Experience to a crisis, they have beta. Experience always makes tough situations easier.
When you think of those traits, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
Such an interesting question… You know who comes to mind when I think about these traits? It’s three of my undergraduate economics professors. Economists are naturally cool-headed and rational, often living comfortably with the fact that people (and the world) are inherently not rational. The very idea that people don’t act predictably or rationally makes many people incredibly uncomfortable, but not economists. The irony of this is that economists create models for understanding markets and human behavior which are still based on assumptions of rationality! It’s pretty entertaining when you think about it.
The relationships I built with my professors are unlike other relationships I’ve formed at any time of my life. With these kind and knowing people, I felt the freedom to shine my brightest light and to not only explore creative concepts together but also to discover the Truth for myself. For me, these relationships were characterized by the possibility of teaching each other something, and no idea or question ever felt silly. This is possible when people are able and willing to check their egos at the door — an ability that takes years of dedicated practice to cultivate. I try my hardest to hold the same space for people today, both personally and professionally.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
Yes, I am proud to share that story, Chris. There was a time when seemingly all of the proof of my credibility and success to that date was crumbling to pieces in front of my very eyes, and I needed to reevaluate how I defined success and security. I lost a job once in a very difficult way; it wasn’t a “fair fight”, so to speak. Even so, what made this so difficult was that I had known for months that communication wasn’t happening openly and plainly by my boss, but I was too fearful to call it out. Because my own silence made a bad situation worse, ultimately losing the job felt like two failures at once.
Had it not been for the unfortunate way that I left the job (not exactly by my choice), who knows when I would have parted ways from a toxic situation, or grown enough resolve to stand up for myself! As is usually the case with arduous circumstances, this situation held the seed of my much-needed growth and of the greater success that was just waiting for me. Now I look back and feel gratitude for the underhanded antics of my previous manager, because leaving that job was one of the best things that ever happened to me. If I had waited until I was “ready” to make the leap, who’s to say how many years of serving my purpose I would have missed out on.
Here is the main question of our discussion. Crises not only have the potential to jeopardize and infiltrate your work, but they also threaten your emotional stability and relationships. Based on your military experience, what are 5 steps that someone can take to survive and thrive in these situations?
In times of crisis when risk is high and time is scarce, the actions we choose to take are vital. Action must be quick but considered. Here are my 5 steps for taking action to thrive through crisis, and I can walk you through a personal example of how to implement them:
2. Distinguish what is real versus projected, imagined, or inferred.
3. Gain perspective.
4. Be decisive.
5. Take quick action.
The first time I climbed the glaciated peak Mount Hood, we saw a climber fall more than 600 vertical feet down the steep snow slope, right in front of us. Because we were on our descent, we were positioned about 200 feet from where his long fall stopped. This truly felt like a crisis: we watched another person experience what we all take great pains to avoid ourselves. What did we do?
1. Instead of just standing frozen and in fear for his safety, we breathed while he fell and we watched the events unfold. Our critical thinking processes need oxygen to function! Though we were unable to stop his fall from afar, we carefully observed what was occurring as it happened, before attempting to take any actions. 2. What did we know? He certainly fell, of that we were sure, but we couldn’t discern where he had landed from our current vantage point. 3. To gain perspective we’d need to get closer, and we were on our feet like lightning. 4. Could we move closer without endangering ourselves? Yes, we realized, we could run there safely without putting ourselves into harm’s way. This decision process was so important because without it there might be two or more injured climbers for rescuers to manage — not just the one. 5. We couldn’t see what stopped his fall, be it a snowy field, or a deep crevasse, so someone grabbed a rope to take over, and off we went to his aid.
Our fallen climber ended up being conscious, and after a couple of hours was effectively evacuated off the mountain that day. He had some bumps and bruises, and maybe a dislocated joint, but he was okay. As you can see from this story, each step on this list can be completed in a moment. Responding to crisis with a plan is more than just helping others, it’s also about taking care of ourselves as we offer aid.
Ok. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’m a huge proponent of Radical Acceptance as a means of connecting to joy, Chris! Radical Acceptance is the means and the ends of happiness. What I want for people is that they find peace and fulfillment with “what is”, now what we wish could be, or what we think should be. Seem easier said than done? It’s actually easy when we understand our true nature, and Radical Acceptance is the easiest way to do so.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
Ellen DeGeneres is one of my most favorite people I’ve never met yet! She blows my mind with the range of both levity and forgiveness she can bring into complex situations. Because my own journey has included a lot of anxiety and depression, I look up to Ellen for her ability to connect with others deeply while keeping it light and real always. My goal would be to ask her one inspiring question that she’s never been asked before… that’s my hidden talent!
How can our readers follow you online?
Honestly, my most intentional communication happens and will always happen in my email community. There’s an intimacy about it that I cherish, and any opt-in on my site connects us: palladiummind dot com. I also love Instagram! My handle is: @mypalladiummind
Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was truly uplifting.