• stressed business person

What It Takes to Lead in Stressful Times

Leadership always comes with high demands – on your mind, your presence, your energy, and your time. Never is that more true, however, than when you find yourself leading during a time of stress.

The stress leaders face can come in many forms. Perhaps your organization is under stress from external forces – loss of customers, shift in markets, or acquisitions. Perhaps the stress is more personal – the loss of a colleague or the close family member of a colleague. Maybe it’s the more straightforward stress that comes with certain busy seasons in your business.

Whatever the cause, stress puts leaders to the test. It challenges us in new and different ways. It also reminds us to get back to basics – to remember that teams are made up of people, all of whom are subject to their own stresses.

If you find yourself in a stressful situation as a leader, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Set a unifying vision.

Clarifying vision is always a key responsibility of any leader. But, when stakes are high – whether you’re getting thru a busy tax season, pivoting your business to a new market, or dealing with a tragedy – your team will need something it can rally around in order to stay focused and energized.

In the vacuum of such a vision, it’s far too easy for individual team members to fall into worry, gossip, and other destructive habits.

So, as hard as it may seem in stressful times, try your best to identify what the key priority is for your team over the short term. Convey it clearly and succinctly in terms that resonate within your organization’s culture. Make sure each member of the team know how they fit into this vision and the role they need to play. Then repeat.

Remain calm.

Learning to manage your emotions is another skill that crucial for all leaders, but never more than when you are being truly tested. Most people around you will be struggling with their own emotions. They will look to you to be a stabilizing force – the person to whom they can turn for reassurance.

But, reassurance alone isn’t enough. If you turn a deaf ear to the concerns of your people, or worse yet, appear to be checked out from what’s really going on around you, you will damage your own credibility and trust. Instead, you must strike a careful balance between admitting your own concerns, while staying focused on solutions and making calm progress.

Keep the lines of communication open.

One of the biggest mistakes I see leaders make in times of stress is to go silent. To huddle up in a conference room, working away, but never communicating what’s happening to the rest of the organization. There are certainly limits on what and when it is appropriate to share certain information beyond an inner circle of decision-makers. But, when you know that there is stress throughout the organization, it is worth the time to make sure that your decisions in this area are deliberate and well thought out.

The other communication mistake leaders make in times of stress is not communicating often enough. When we are stressed, it takes most of us longer to absorb what’s being said to us. So, you can’t just cover an idea in a single meeting. Or post one announcement in a group email. Rather, you must communicate over and over to be sure that people are absorbing what is being said. Otherwise, you run the risk of the message being lost in the flood of emotion that comes with stress.

Leading in stressful times can be challenging, but focusing on a few fundamental habits can yield better results – for you, your team, and your organization as whole