How to Lead in an Anxious World

We are living through a crisis with no modern-day precedent. Organizations of every size and type, from businesses and governments to hospitals and schools to faith communities and nonprofit organizations need leaders. We need people who can help others overcome their weakness and fear and come together to do better, more difficult things than any one of them could do on their own.

But how does a leader bring inspiration and motivation in an anxious world? Here are some thoughts:

Help people understand their stress. Especially in such a widespread, long-lived and exhausting crisis as the pandemic, it’s common for people to cope by trying to push their stress away. Some are reluctant to address their fatigue or even acknowledge their fears. The best leaders model healthy ways of viewing and dealing with their own stress, and they encourage others to own and address whatever they may be feeling.

Encourage people to face their fears and take action. In the midst of the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously told the nation, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” In other words, we have to meet the crisis head-on, because that is where we will find our strength. You cannot solve a problem until you face it, and you cannot find resolution in turning away. As a leader, you are charged with showing understanding to anxious people and then leading them to act.

Deliver brutal honesty and bring people together in solidarity. Especially when those around you are anxious, it’s important to be brutally honest. Assess current and future threats frankly and transparently, because only then you can rally people together in solidarity, determination and resilience to weather the crisis collectively.

Provide a purpose and distinct direction. When anxiety is present and fears are rampant, the best leaders invite people to serve with purpose in a defined direction. They assign clear roles and responsibilities and remind their team that their work matters and has value. When people know where they’re going and have a clear sense of the purpose, meaning and value behind what they’re doing, anxiety fades and focused action takes priority.

Emphasize the power of agility and reassessment. When you’re hit by a crisis you’ve never experienced before, there’s no playbook or experience to guide your actions. That means you need to be a leader who can move through a changing landscape with flexibility, consistently testing what you’ve learned and reassessing your knowledge and strategy as you go. You will likely experience some blind alleys and reversals and failures, but they all play a role in moving through the crisis. Keep your message consistent with your actions, reminding your team that the crisis you’re experiencing gives you a powerful opportunity to do better and be better together.

Lead from within: In a crisis the true leader will not waste any challenge. Instead, they will do what it takes to turn it into a memorable and meaningful opportunity.

 

 


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Lolly Daskal is one of the most sought-after executive leadership coaches in the world. Her extensive cross-cultural expertise spans 14 countries, six languages and hundreds of companies. As founder and CEO of Lead From Within, her proprietary leadership program is engineered to be a catalyst for leaders who want to enhance performance and make a meaningful difference in their companies, their lives, and the world.

Of Lolly’s many awards and accolades, Lolly was designated a Top-50 Leadership and Management Expert by Inc. magazine. Huffington Post honored Lolly with the title of The Most Inspiring Woman in the World. Her writing has appeared in HBR, Inc.com, Fast Company (Ask The Expert), Huffington Post, and Psychology Today, and others. Her newest book, The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness has become a national bestseller.

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