How Great Leaders Handle High-Stress Situations

How Great Leaders Handle High-Stress Situations

Turn hopeless into hopeful, and you'll be on your way to overcoming what lays ahead. Take it one step at a time.

There are a lot of worst-case scenarios that can cause cortisol levels to skyrocket, even for the most seasoned business leaders. For some leaders, a crisis like the current Covid-19 pandemic is one of them. For others, there can be a variety of triggers. Your biggest client has given notice; your star employee is now working for your competitor; your stock value has plummeted. Leaders are stuck wondering how they’re going to pivot and scale the rather large mountain that stands in front of them. 

In these kinds of circumstances, there are two types of leaders. The first turns around and walks away. The second laces on their hiking books and begins the climb. Who do you think is more successful?

I know how difficult it can be to keep your cool. I’ve weathered the dot-com bubble, the 2008 recession, and many mountains along the way. Throughout the journey, I’ve learned from my mistakes, as well as from other leaders, on exactly what not to do. 

Here are three things leaders should never do during a rocky period. 

 

1. Focus on the negative.

In business, there are a lot of things that can go wrong. And when they do, it can seem like your entire world is closing in on you. When you’re at this point (and believe me, everyone will be at this point at one time or another), you must do everything you can to stay out of that negative spiral. 

Covid-19 has forced many of my company’s clients to close their doors and cease operations. This means revenues have not just dropped, but in some cases, come to a complete halt. Needless to say, morale is low. 

As each day passes, the totality of this situation becomes very clear. Clients and staff look to me for answers. And while I can’t offer an end date, there is one thing I can do: reinforce positivity. Turn hopeless into hopeful, and you’ll be on your way to overcoming what lays ahead.

2. Take your time.

When you’re going through highly stressful situations that threaten the stability of your business, now is not the time to dawdle. Decisions need to be made, and quickly. I’m not suggesting that major steps like laying off staff should be taken rashly. However, you can’t spend three months going back and forth on an issue that should have been addressed from the beginning.

When I expanded my business to Europe, I waited way too long to make critical decisions. I didn’t understand the market or have the right people in place, so I kept waiting to see if things would turn around. Needless to say, it didn’t work in my favor. Besides a sizable amount of money, I lost my confidence as a leader and entrepreneur. 

Making tough decisions is hard. Unfortunately, it’s what you signed up for. The longer you wait to make a call, whether it’s layoffs or closing stores or rebranding, you need to do so decisively. Otherwise, your business could suffer, or worse, cease to exist.

3. Lie about it.

I had just started my business when the dot-com bubble hit. In a matter of days, more than half my business was gone. I was afraid to say how bad things had become, so I pretended it was a minor setback. On the outside I was playing it cool, while on the inside I was in panic mode.

I’m going to let you in a little secret: People know when you’re lying. You can do all the bragging and acting you want, but numbers tell the truth. When there’s nothing left in the bank account, there’s not much else to say.

The key to start turning things around begins with transparency. I’ve learned not to be ashamed to admit when I’ve hit rough waters. The more I lead from a place of honesty, the more I’ll garner loyalty and respect from my staff, clients, and peers. Guess what? You will too. 

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After more than 14,000 placements and nearly 20 years in business, it's fair to say we've learned a thing or two about matching top talent with great companies.