Keep Calm & Carry On – Leading Under Stress

by on May 20, 2020 3:05 PM

Keep Calm & Carry On - Leading Under Stress

Since mid-March, all our lives and companies have been affected by COVID19. The change was quick and disruptive, resulting in varying levels of anxiety. This is particularly daunting for business owners and management who are expected to be a steady light through uncertainty.

On this week’s Town Hall call, Trilogy Alliance Partners, Dr. Marc Celentana and Bill Ehrhardt, led an insightful discussion on how to be a more effective, focused, and empathetic leader during stressful times.

Q & A:

How can I manage my own stress levels?

  •  Recognize that stress is a natural response to things out of norm.
  • Acknowledge that you have stress and don’t try to mask.
  • Don’t deny how you feel from a health perspective.
  • “Manage” is synonymous with practicing good techniques:
    – Eating – includes meal prep and healthy food options
    – Sleeping – define what is optimal for you
    – Exercise – figure out your regiment. Research has shown that exercise equals increased levels of distress.
    – Consider other healthy habits such as meditation/mindfulness

How do I instill a sense of calm and confidence with my team with all the uncertainty?

  • Understand that “instilling calm and confidence” is a positive leadership trait.
    – Everyone (employees/vendors/customers/strategic partners, etc.) is “taking notes” and will remember how you navigated the ship when this is over.
    – Be aware that you may not realize that you are putting out signs of stress.
  • Ask yourself, what was my normal pre-Covid behavior and can I practice some of these behaviors now? For example, if you had frequent interaction with employees at the office, is there a way to mirror that behavior from home?
  •  Don’t come across too optimistic but talk about the future.
  • Ask employees: What are the opportunities and what have we learned?
  • In times of chaos, individuals look to leaders as a guide for behavior so lead by example.
  • Examples: If you want employees to practice good customer service, model that behavior. If you want employees to practice stress management techniques, share what you are doing.

How can I better help my employees with their stress?

  •  Recognize that even in best of times, employees feel stress.
  • Have frequent but shorter check-ins.
  • Help employees understand what is going on in the organization and their important role.
  • If employees are disconnected from one another, are there ways to bridge that gap? (i.e., Zoom happy hours, agreement to rally around one charity or cause).

How do I motivate employees with all the uncertainty?

  • What are the core values and the culture? Leaders must ask what they are doing to maintain the company’s culture and values during this time.
  •  Use technology to find ways to do the things that you would normally do. For example, weekly 1:1 check-in can now be done via Zoom or phone.
  •  When there is uncertainty, insert certainty.
    – Reach out and address areas of uncertainty
    – Be as transparent as possible.
  • Express appreciation.

How do I effectively communicate and lead in a virtual environment?

  • Continue to focus on culture and core values so the organization does not shift away from your foundation.
  • Overcommunicate and use a variety of technology to facilitate dialogue.
  • Decide how much communication is appropriate (Daily? Weekly?)
  • Leadership takes an active role on 1:1 calls:
    – Encourage 1:1 contact at every leadership level throughout the organization.

How do I get out of fighting fires and allocate some time to strategy and opportunity?

  • Be mindful that due to all the uncertainty, leaders may engage in areas that they were not involved in before.
  • Important to set aside time each day to think about strategy, opportunity, lessons learned, innovation, and best practices.
    – How much time you spend on strategy is an individual decision but it’s time to get your head back in the clouds.
    – Encourage your middle managers to do the same.
    – This can be therapeutic and will be allow you/your company to be ready for whatever happens next.
  •  Looking at everything beyond the NOW. How are we learning from this experience?
  • Think about the worst thing that happened to you professionally. How did that experience change you and your company? Focus on that outcome now as fuel to move your company forward.

How do I get out of my own way in today’s virtual world? Am I an impediment to my employees or my company being able to move forward?

  • Leadership is not about a given title; it’s about how you manage during times of ambiguity.
  • Think about best practices that allow for positive behaviors and outcomes. Some examples are frequent communication, bringing people into conversation, asking for opinions, and showing an interest in developing others.
  • Be an open-minded entrepreneur. By adopting new solutions, company will be primed for the uncertainty of the next 6-12 months.

How can I demonstrate vulnerability as a strength?

  • Most leaders are not comfortable being vulnerable, Covid is forcing owners to acknowledge their discomfort and some have had to show their hand.
  • Recognize that employees will appreciate your honesty and these relationships will continue long after COVID19.

I do not have a good support system; what do I do?

  • Find one that works for you. Look for a place where you feel safe and free from judgement.
  • Your support system may be:
    – more traditional: a work team, upper management, family, a professional association, networking with like-minded business owners
    – or untraditional: friends offering more professional support, a consultant, business coach, therapist, or even a social club

How do I sort through all the “advice” that’s out there?

  • Check sources of information; listen, evaluate, and confirm with a reliable source.
  • Decipher what is credible and who has company’s best interest at heart
  • Use external sources to support internal decisions.

How do I get my employees to maintain their highest productivity while working from home (WFH)?

  • Know what employees were doing before and expect a similar level of quality and productivity while recognizing the challenges of WFH and its impact on productivity.
    – Look at the big picture and do not micromanage by trying to determine work units in hours and minutes.
    – Ask yourself if the work is getting completed at the best level possible for this unprecedented time?
  • Open dialogue and allow for flexibility.
    – May be a shift in the way work is done to accommodate WFH.
  • Get comfortable with technology that allows for business continuity and be open to new ideas.

What are the negative effects of employee stress?

  • Stress is often caused when you expect one thing and it turns out differently.
    – Concentration, productivity, trust, and communication may be impacted when under stress.
  • Leaders should be empathetic to the reality that mental health issues, poor diet and/or lack of exercise, limited social interaction, work-at-home and/or working outside of traditional time boundaries are just some of the factors that can lead to heightened stress.
  • Allow for employees to set boundaries and be inaccessible.

How can my organization implement stress management training while everyone is working from home (WFH)? 

  • Come to an agreement that working from home is inherently stressful during this time and make a conscious decision to want to do best by your employees.
    – Recognize added challenge of the work environment; we are fixed in front of a computer which does not mimic office environment where you can communicate with movement.
  • Ask your employees what stress management techniques they are practicing and encourage their activities.
  • Promote mindful, meditation – can be individually or as group to become centered & grounded (productivity/connection).

About Hal Levenson

Hal Levenson is the Founder and Chief Visionary Officer at Trilogy Partners. Trilogy Partners is an advisory & implementation firm whose mission is to help companies grow and transform.  We accomplish this by focusing on 3 critical business areas: Financial, Strategy & People.


DISCLAIMER: Please check with your trusted professionals prior to acting for your business. This Q & A recap should not replace professional services from legal, financial, payroll, HR, insurance, or consulting professionals. If you need a resource in one of these areas, please reach out to Hal Levenson at or contact Trilogy Partners at 609-688-0428.

Also, as expressed by the professionals on the call, it is critical that you do a personal examination of the many factors of your business to make the best decision for you and your employees.