How well do you manage yourself under pressure and stress? You may feel you are doing a good job at remaining calm and focused. Or you may feel it doesn’t matter whether you keep your cool or not. After all, everyone is human and entitled to their emotions.
But the way you manage yourself when the going gets tough can compromise others’ trust in you. It has a direct impact on how others assess your ability to lead.
Eric, CEO of a food distribution company, had lost credibility. When he called, he noted that members of his executive team seemed to be making decisions without him. They were now siloed as they worked in their own areas of responsibility.
“Just like that,” Eric said. “COVID hit, we scrambled to put things in place, keep the company running, and here we are – fragmented, scrapping, and losing clients. I know we hit an international crisis, but I can’t seem to bring the group back together.”
Eric allowed me to visit with the team members individually to explore moving forward together with a more aligned approach.
“Eric lost his edge in May,” said one. “He stopped making the hard decisions and would use phrases like, ‘let’s just wait and see’ when it came to things we couldn’t wait on.”
“Eric holed up in his office when COVID hit,” said another. “He seemed distant and aloof. He would lead discussions around tactics to survive, but he couldn’t seem to move beyond the immediate. After a while, we just left him alone and moved forward.”
I sat with six executives, and the messages were all similar.
“Eric, we have some trust-rebuilding to do with your team,” I said. “They have lost confidence in your ability to lead under pressure.”
“What? I don’t understand!”
“Here is a short list: unresponsive, preoccupied, slow to make crucial decisions…”
Eric slowly sat back in his chair. After a quiet moment, he said, “I didn’t realize it showed that much.”
He shared the pressure that COVID had generated for them.
“I lost a lot of sleep,” he said. “There were so many new things we had to deal with as far as employees working from home, shipping things out. And so many other things.” He seemed lost in thought. “I have to say the stress really got to me. I guess I didn’t handle things that well.”
“We can rebuild,” I said. “But you are also going to have to learn to manage the way you show up under pressure.”
Over the next few months, we did some important team building using a short-term strategic action plan to recover client loyalty and revenue. At the same time, Eric and I worked on techniques to sharpen his awareness around his emotions and how this affected his decision-making and ability to relate to others.
They continued to improve in their trust of Eric and the team’s ability to work together under stressful conditions. Today, Eric’s team is one of the most agile I know, starting with Eric and his ability to lead, and the team in how they work together.
How do others perceive your ability to manage yourself as leader when the going gets tough? If you aren’t sure, it’s time to ask them.
© Patti Cotton and patticotton.com. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that attribution is made to Patti Cotton and patticotton.com, with links thereto.
Patti Cotton helps executives optimize their effectiveness in leading self, others, and the enterprise. Her areas of focus include confidence, leadership style, executive presence, effective communication, succession planning, and masterful execution. With over 25 years of leadership experience, both stateside and abroad, Patti works with individuals, teams, and organizations across industries, providing executive consulting, leadership development, succession planning, change management, and conflict resolution. She is also an experienced Fortune 500 speaker. For more information on how Patti Cotton can help you and your organization, click here.