When a business faces huge new challenges that it is not prepared for, its leader’s best tool for reassuring the workforce is to project outward calm. A leader’s optimistic, “we can do it!” attitude rallies support for whatever change or transformation is necessary to meet the new challenges.
In truth, business executives often feel daunted, isolated, and uncertain. We are not professional actors, but we still must put on a show of optimism even if we have no idea whether we are making the right decisions. Leading a business through a long crisis has been a nearly universal experience now, and executives everywhere are surely hoping for a breather in which their companies go “back to normal.”
Yet now is no time to let down the visage of outward calm. One of the easiest places to stumble in a race is near the finish line. That’s when our concentration shifts from the course that we are on to what is coming next—how we will celebrate our victory or rationalize our disappointing finish.
Saying “I Believe in You”
Our people have been through a lot dealing with the pandemic’s disruptions of family and work life, and they need reassurance that better times are ahead. Leaders should be projecting optimism, not about their own brilliant decision-making and strategic wizardry, but about their people’s capabilities. Saying “I believe in you” helps others believe in themselves. The executive leaders who fail to see this emotional support role as part of their responsibilities are missing an opportunity to engender their team’s loyalty and support. When you show you care about other people, they remember and reciprocate.
Projecting outward calm in the face of uncertainty is a way of showing care for others. Negativity and anxiety can be contagious in a workplace. Optimism, on the other hand, allows us to be open to solutions when they present themselves. Most businesses have been through a lot of change recently and they are still trying out new ways of working. Not everything we try will succeed, but we can maintain our outward calm by accepting that we may have to quickly pivot away from things that are not working. The literature on leadership offers other strategies for keeping calm during a crisis.
Inner Doubts, Outward Calm
One strategy I offered in my book Beyond the Superhero involves focusing our minds and our internal company communications on the higher purposes of our business. I recount times when my confidence as a leader was shaken by conflicting feedback or self-doubt but restored by just trying to be a supportive person. The company I lead, Questco, handles a lot of complicated and time-sensitive outsourcing of payroll, employee benefits, human resources, and other professional employer services. To help the dispersed workforce see the higher purpose, I say we are in the business of helping other businesses succeed. Having such a clear purpose in serving others fulfills a human need and is remarkably calming.