Why do some some people surprise us and either shine/fail in a crisis?

Let’s take a look at Anna who works as a cashier is large hardware store in Raanana* Israel. Until the corona crisis broke out, Anna was just one of the gang. She came on time, brought a sandwich from home, ate lunch with her shift buddies, slowed down to punish problematic customers, and gave somewhat more personalized service to the nicer people.

Anna’s academic achievements were always poor; she married the wrong guy and now she regrets it. She reads the newspaper and has her nails done once a month. She has one son and two dogs. Plain Anna.  But now, she shines. Anna is fearless. All her life, she has never known fear.

Ever since corona broke out, Anna works very hard, projects a super positive attitude and serves as an inspiration for her coworkers. Why? Because her fearlessness has given her a clear advantage.  Until now, it  has never counted for much; in the crisis, she shines with a charming resilience.

Anna shows up every day, has a super positive attitude, helps people bag their goods, and carries on friendly conversation with the customers. At lunch she calms down her anxiety-ridden colleagues. Anna has become a leader.

Let’s now look at Alex. Alex is the deputy manager of the hardware store where Anna works. Alex is orderly, highly disciplined, emotionally withdrawn, reserved yet very fair. A bit too fair for the relationship-driven culture of Israeli society.

If someone has a nickname, Alex never uses it. Roberto is Roberto not Bobby; Svetlana remains Svetlana and not Svet;  Anna remains Anna and not Anya.

Until the crisis broke out, the staff obeyed Alex, mildly disliked him and his humourlessness but did what  they were told  because he controlled the “extra hours” budget, with extra hours bagging a 180% premium.

In the crisis, there are no extra hours. As a matter of fact, no one (except Anna) wants to work. Alex’s cold disposition has crippled his ability to control staff. Just yesterday, Alex told Svetlana to take her earphone out, and Svetlana told Alex, in Russian, to carry out a certain sexual activity with his mother. All the cashiers laughed, and started putting in their earphones as well.

In the past, Alex would have fired Svetlana on the spot. Now, finding a cashier is like finding an honest politician;  Alex’s leadership is ruined.

When the context of work changes, the skills which are valued change-and so some people shine and others fall flat on their face.

And thanks to Dr Eva Rimbau for giving me the idea for this post.


*Raanana was founded by my grandfathers’ brother and sister-Uncle Jack  and Auntie Ida with the beginning of the British mandate which took over Ottoman-controlled Palestine.



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6 thoughts on “Why do some some people surprise us and either shine/fail in a crisis?

  1. The “magic” connection is empathy. Anna has it Including self empathy. Alex sorely needs it. The empathetic human connection. (Sometimes referred to as leadership) makes the difference.

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