Keep Calm and Carry On: Leadership Under Pressure

April 16, 2020

Janine Allen

Let’s be frank. We’re all a little (okay, a lot) stressed out right now. While we’re doing our best to lead our respective companies through crisis, we’re also trying to figure out how to keep our families healthy and safe, how to get groceries and where we’re going to find hair dye now (just me?).

So, as leaders, how do you communicate calm under pressure during COVID-19? You can certainly lean on your core leadership skills and training in crisis communications, but remember that this crisis is different – it’s attacking us both professionally, and personally – so it’s important to recognize that your team has more than just work on their plates as well.

Tips for communicating calm and focused leadership:

1. Be authentic

We’re all in this together; strong leaders display humanity in tough times. It’s ok to acknowledge the challenges we face, and that we don’t yet have all the answers. Be honest and transparent to build trust with your team. Understand what value you already bring to your employees and start there with your communications.

2. Have conviction

While it’s fine to admit the next few months won’t be easy, your team needs to know you have a plan and confidence in the plan and the team. People respond better to positive messages, so saying out loud “I firmly believe we will get through this together, if we adhere to the plan…” or “I know this is the team to get us through this…” helps bond the team together behind a common goal.

3. Inspire your team to act

Further to the previous point, you need to have, and communicate, a clear goal for the next few months, and inspire others to take actions to reach that goal. This is not a time to bully or manage through fear. If you have a team that’s anything like ours at KLC, you know that a team united can accomplish incredible things.

On the less positive end, communicating a clear goal to manage through this time will help should you be faced with giving tough updates. Your team may be able to better accept difficult news and hopefully won’t feel blind-sided if they understand it is in pursuit of long-term sustainability.

4. Be present and available

As a leader in times of crisis, you need to show up, and keep showing up each day. I don’t mean physically, because most of us aren’t at the office anymore. In a new virtual world, you need to be available and reach out to your team more frequently – through team and video meetings of course, but also one-on-one via calls and/or online messaging. Some managers with hands-off styles are struggling in this new world. My personal recommendation? Don’t rely on email too much. We’re all under siege with emails. Call or send an instant message, even if it’s just to say “Hello. How are you doing?”

5. Find an outlet for your own stress

Finally, recognize that you too, need an outlet to manage all this stress if you want to continue to communicate calm. Maybe this is a partner or friend who you can talk to, or a combination of exercise and mediation. Choose healthy food when you can, but if you can’t, don’t be too hard on yourself. Eating an entire bag of your mom’s cookies that you found at the bottom of your freezer is okay once in a while too.*

To all the great leaders out there – we see you and admire all you’re doing for your teams.

*I’m not a doctor. Just a woman who takes everything in moderation, including moderation.

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