The tides of change are straining these days; the gravitational pull disrupting traditional ways of leading and doing business. This requires all of us to be on our toes ( what feels like all of the time) .  

It’s never easy to be a great leader or boss, even in the best of times. When you face rapid shifts and frequent uncertainty, it can feel impossible. That’s why it’s important to have a bead on your own Signature Stress Reaction ( take the quiz here ).

Then you can tap the skills needed to navigate whatever comes your way. Like when:

  • You get that call and your whole week gets blown up. Poof!  
  • Your key staff person, presenting at the annual conference, becomes ill. 
  • You’re already understaffed and another resignation letter gets dropped by a hardworking employee (who also brings bagels on Friday).  
  • When your #$@% computer won’t do what you need it to do and the IT staffer is gone. 

As biological beings we’re wired to respond to our environment, so there’s no shame in noticing that you are experiencing stress. But what to do with it?


Doesn’t matter if you are entry level or way up the chain of command – noticing our physical and mental experiences is part of being fully human and your first step.

Knowing your own Signature Stress Reaction, self-awareness being the primary quality of emotional intelligence, allows you to self-regulate your experience: emotions and thoughts and actions in order to move forward wisely.

If you’re responsible for others in some fashion—leading that new team, rolling out a new product, organizing the opportunity—the game just leveled up. Now, it’s not only essential that you channel the energy of your Signature Stress Reaction into positive action, your people need more .  

When folks feel threatened they become distracted. They’re trying to figure out what’s up, coping with their own anxiety, chatting it up with colleagues.

And, since we’re all humans with quirks, weird reactions, and blind spots – they’ll be watching you .  

They’ll be interpreting your actions, noticing how you handle the changes, modeling after your emotional response. In short, scrutinizing even the smallest moves you make.


Psychologist Susan Fiske explains: “People pay attention to those who control their outcomes. In attempts to predict and possibly influence what is going to happen to them, people gather information about those with power.”  

When the stress is high, uncertainty mounting, if you’re a “mess” then those who follow will likely be so too. If you’re handling the situation well, they’ll feel more emboldened to do the same.  

Needless to say, as the waters rise, your people will need a few essentials to navigate the waters of change.

For example, if you find yourself nervous about the impact of the corona virus on the economy, simply focus on Catching Yourself Being Yourself .

First notice your own biological sensation, then tune into their impact on your own emotions and thoughts. Shift as need be, bringing yourself present to be in the moment you’re actually in.  

By acknowledging your experience and sharing it, you can transform your vulnerability into valuable trust–from one human to another. Others appreciate that kind of authenticity because it paves the way for them to work with their stresses too.


Now you’re ready to focus on four essentials in stressful, uncertain situations: predictability, control, understanding, and compassion.

  1. Predictability

Remember Flight 1549, what has come to be known as the “ Miracle on the Hudson ? As the pilots, Sullenberger and Skiles directed the plane, plummeting towards the water, the flight attendants chanted in unison, “ Brace, brace, heads down, stay down .” Their directions provided a smidge of predictability in a terrifying time. When tough times and crises, we need to provide the same kind of clear and emphatic direction.

  1. Control

We all want to have positive impact, yet if change is too big or comes too fast, folks become overwhelmed and powerless. The difference between what folks expect and what they get is shaped in these moments.  

The antidote? Chunk it down into more manageable and bite-sized pieces. This brings a bit more stability to the situation, with folks feeling more like they have choice— so give them choice .  

  1. Understanding

“If predictability is about what will happen and when, understanding is about why and how .”  

Any important change requires an explanation of what’s going on and the impact it will have on everyone because we tend to react to the vacuum created by change. So much so that we get caught up, filling in to create the ‘story’ that reflects our mindset. Don’t be afraid to be visible with your own frustrations; it creates greater understanding.  

During times of change, the explanation is often negative.  Yet better to given an answer folks don’t like than none at all.  Make it simple, concrete, and repeat it often.  

  1. Compassion

Listening fully to other’s perspectives and emotional reactions will serve to soothe & mitigate the situation.  Compassion can take many forms. At its heart it’s as simple as adopting the other person’s point of view, understanding any anxiety, and making a sincere effort to soothe it.  

Compassion is most important when it helps people retain their dignity.  

And . . .

  1. It’s all about Dignity.
  2. Compassion affects the bottom line results on tough times.
  3. Focus on managing mood; your attention sets the stage.


When changes are underway, tending to the emotional needs of people is essential. It’s an investment that will yield many positive outcomes.


Signs of Leadership

Leaders who bring predictability, offer understanding, and genuinely show compassion for their people allow employees to accomplish the most in times of high anxiety.  


In turn, you’ll be able to navigate the waters of change and uncertainty with your full humanity in tact if you:   

  • Are willing to engage people in human ways.  


  • Share your weird sense of humor that conveys your warmth.  


  • Make yourself visible and accessible, don’t isolate.  


  • Insist on excellence and hold people accountable for their commitments. Celebrate them when they come through!  


  • Have the backs of your people and stand up for them. Let everyone in on the story of how you’re all handling the stress of navigation together.