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How to Lead Your Business Through Anxiety

Business people in office

If you’re like most business leaders, you had a lot of issues on your mind at the start of 2020. Also like most leaders, I’m guessing, weathering a global pandemic probably wasn’t one of them. A year ago, few could have predicted that the global grip of COVID-19 was imminent; indeed, to say that we’re in a time of uncertainty is a colossal understatement.

That uncertainty has far-reaching consequences, and one is a crippling anxiety that’s jeopardizing the professional lives of many workers. More than half of Generation Z is affected by anxiety—to the extent of missing work—and it affects business leaders at least as much as employees, according to past research studying the links between job authority and depression.

Now, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, anxiety is at an all-time high. Business leaders are tasked with handling the stress of the moment while managing remote teams, quickly evolving strategies, and economic turmoil. For your own health and the health of your business, it’s critical to find ways to work through anxiety during these difficult times.

Exacerbating an Existing Condition

The coronavirus (and the worldwide panic it has created) may be novel, but mental strain was already a serious problem. The 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 47.6 million adults in the U.S. struggled with mental illnesses. Figures released by the World Health Organization at the beginning of 2020 illustrated that more than 264 million people were battling depression around the globe. Its effects range from decreased productivity to suicide in the worst cases.

As people around the world struggle with deaths of relatives and friends, job loss, financial uncertainty, and extended periods of self-isolation, some reports suggest that the mental health fallout from COVID-19 could turn out to be more hazardous than the virus itself.

To avoid the consequences of unmitigated mental strain in your own organization, you’ll need to demonstrate capable and compassionate leadership. Not sure where to start in the current climate of panic and confusion? Here are a few healthy ways to move your business forward during this crisis:

  1. Empathize, person-to-person.
    When you’re an authority figure, employees might view you as insulated from the ongoing crisis. To alleviate anxiety, it’s important to demonstrate that you’re all in this together. It may feel less professional, but let your kids show up in video meetings. Engage on Slack channels more often—relate to struggles, but also discuss your forward-thinking plans. According to Harvard professors Michaela Kerrissey and Amy Edmondson, “It will be incumbent on leaders to put themselves in another’s suffering, to feel with empathy and think with intelligence, and then to use their position of authority to make a path forward for us all. Crises of historical proportion can make for leaders of historical distinction, but that is far from guaranteed.” Make sure your employees know they have your support, and you’ll ease a considerable mental burden.
  2. Refocus your perspective.
    It’s easy to close our eyes and hope for the best when the world is falling down around us, but Srini Pillay, M.D., suggests we adopt a growth mindset instead. Pillay is the CEO of consulting firm NeuroBusiness Group and a psychiatrist who has studied the effects of anxiety on the brain. As he explains, “The idea with a growth mindset is that if you practice it regularly, it becomes automatic. And the more focused you are on positively tackling your objectives and making progress, the more likely you are to succeed in doing just that.” Instead of worrying about everything that could go wrong, utilize positive self-talk. You can get your team through this crisis—and you will.
  3. Delegate critical controls.
    It’s scary to delegate mission-critical responsibilities, but you can’t attempt to do everything yourself if you hope to lead your business through a crisis. Surround yourself with a team of people you trust and give them the freedom to take quick and decisive action. As you delegate, look for the humble but capable leaders who emerge to take charge. A McKinsey & Co. post describes them as “well-grounded individuals who possess humility but not helplessness,” pointing out that rank is less important than strength of character in this situation. These leader-delegates won’t always be senior executives, so expand your search and identify individuals who can take control and lead calmly through the storm.

Uncertain times breed anxiety of all kinds. We can’t foresee the future even under the best of circumstances, but crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic illustrate just how little control we truly have. It’s an uncomfortable realization, even more so for leaders who normally have important business matters firmly in hand. The good news is that we can assuage anxiety—our own and others’—by focusing on the things we can influence: our people, our perspective, and our approach moving forward.

Written by Rhett Power. Have you read?

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Rhett Power
Rhett Power is responsible for helping corporate leadership take the actions needed to drive impact and courage in their teams that will improve organizational performance. He is the author of The Entrepreneur’s Book of Actions: Essential Daily Exercises and Habits for Becoming Wealthier, Smarter, and More Successful (McGraw-Hill Education) and co-founder of Wild Creations, an award-winning start-up toy company. After a successful exit from the toy company, Rhett was named the best Small Business Coach in the United States. In 2019 he joined the prestigious Marshall Goldsmith's 100 Coaches and was named the #1 Thought Leader on Entrepreneurship by Thinkers360. He is a Fellow at The Institute of Coaching at McLean Hospital, a Harvard Medical School affiliate. He travels the globe speaking about entrepreneurship and management alongside the likes of former Gates Foundation CEO Sue Desmond-Hellmann and AOL Founder Steve Case. Rhett Power is an acclaimed author, leader, entrepreneur and an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow him on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.