Cut Yourself Some Slack


Ease the pressure on everyone by being a good leader

As the pandemic drags on, small business owners must operate in what has become a prolonged period of stress. There’s no end in sight.

So right now, before the perfect storm of the holidays, the flu season, and winter weather makes stress even worse, take a deep breath and relax. Then lead.

“How you behave under pressure truly defines you as a leader,” says Quint Studer, author of The Busy Leader’s Handbook: How to Lead People and Places That Thrive. “It sets the tone for how your employees manage themselves during stressful situations and it defines your relationship with them. If you’ve created a culture in which people are allowed to fall to pieces when the work gets harder, employees will leave and your business will suffer. But when your team sees you pull things together and navigate them out of a tricky situation, it’s a huge credibility builder. Stronger bonds are created.”

Here are some of his best practices for strong leadership.

Learn from mistakes and fix the culprits

Identify stress points and think critically about whom on your team they impact. Use your evaluation to decide where to delegate work and identify employees who might need additional support. Don’t lower expectations! “Settling” will only breed excuses and erode performance over time.


A long to-do list should not freak you out if you use it to complete work in a sensible order. Evaluate daily what is most important. Defy the desire to close out small tasks to make room for bigger ones. What you should be doing is staying focused on the things that contribute most to the success of your business. Getting things done may feel good in the moment, but what really matters is doing the most important ones first.


“Bring order and clear thinking to chaotic situations,” says Studer. “Keep an eye on what really matters and what can be cut away. By using a cool and methodical approach to organizing tasks and procedures, you can help employees stay focused and productive, and keep their stress reactions in check.”

Create a culture of calm

Research indicates that the ripple effect of negative emotions is considerably more intense than the effect of positive emotions. In other words, if employees see you stressed, they will likely become stressed, too. Model calmness when things are crazy. If you’re serene and focused on solutions, your team will mimic your behavior. “Try not to show physical signs of stress,” adds Studer. “Wringing your hands or pacing around anxiously will have a negative impact on your employees’ performance.”

Don’t blow things out of proportion

Small problems may seem like serious challenges when you’re under stress, so keep a level head. Leaders who lose their cool also lose their credibility. Employee morale and productivity can suffer as a result. In the end, it means spending more time on fixing problems that could have been avoided.

Be careful about the words you use

There is nothing wrong with stating that you are busy, but how you talk about it impacts others. Avoid using words like “slammed” or “overwhelmed.” Just because you’re stressed doesn’t mean everyone else has to be.

Keep the past in its place

Don’t rehash company mistakes and misses. Talking about them over and over just becomes gossip. Instead of focusing on past challenges, look for what’s right today and constantly celebrate bright spots.

Don’t pretend to be fearless

“A common mistake leaders make is pretending that everything is fine when it clearly isn’t,” says Studer. “Acknowledging that a negative circumstance is real and even scary is the best way to build trust with your team. It will motivate them to invest 110 percent into solving the problem. Be honest and calm at the same time.”

Establish some ground rules

Put a plan into place to help your team deal with frustration and conflict in a way that encourages them to perform. It may include asking everyone to be mindful of their tone when communicating, to focus on facts not opinions during discussions, to jump in and help each other when necessary, and to suggest solutions when presenting problems.

Learn to reset

Setbacks will happen, and business owners need to be able to bounce back quickly and move forward. “Being resilient comes from having good coping skills, supportive environments with a lot of psychological safety, a strong sense of optimism, grit, and the mental and physical stamina to sustain and move through stressful situations,” Studer concluded. “You can work on all of these factors, but know that resiliency also comes with experience.”

Keep on the Sunny Side

Randy Pausch died in 2008 at age 47. He is remembered for his upbeat “Last Lecture” presented in 2007. The Carnegie Mellon computer science professor, diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2006, spoke about how to achieve your childhood dreams. His book on the same theme became a New York Times bestseller and inspired millions of people around the world with its positivity.

What was inspiring was Randy’s inclination to seek out the blessings of an otherwise horrible situation. Doing so can be powerfully cathartic, revealed the results of a recent study by What’s more, people who look for the positives when faced with a negative situation are happier, more resilient, and have stronger self-esteem than those who don’t, says the research.

Analyzing data from 12,259 people who took its Emotional Intelligence Test, PsychTest researchers compared “Silver Liners” to “Downers” (people unwilling and/or unable to look for the bright side of negative situations) on different EQ competencies. The differences were staggering. Using a scoring scale from 0 to 100, researchers revealed that Silver Liners are
• happier and more satisfied with their life (score of 72 versus 50 for Downers);
• more resilient (83/56);
• better stress managers (79/52);
• more confident, with stronger self-esteem (77/ 56);
• open-minded, with a more flexible mindset (79/65);
• more perseverant, have a stronger drive to succeed, and are always striving for self-improvement (86/65);
• more self-aware of their strengths, weaknesses, values, and motivations (75/52);
• able to let go of minor annoyances (85/69);
• smarter at picking their battles (72/59);
• better at resolving conflict (75/55); and
• more understanding of human nature (79/66).

“Trying to find the silver lining in a bad or traumatic situation is challenging and easier said than done,” explains PsychTest President Ilona Jerabek, PhD. “We become so fixated on the negative aspects that it seems impossible to pivot our mind toward something positive. But finding the silver lining is not about ignoring the reality of your life, it’s about realizing that good can still come of a bad situation.

“Every painful or harsh lesson in life is an opportunity to learn and grow, and to gain the strength to tackle future challenges,” she adds. “Taking the time to really dig through the crap to find the silver lining – and there will always be one – helps you nurture this ability. It can really change your mood, mindset, and life in general.”

Quint Studer, the author of nine books, including two Wall Street Journal bestsellers, is a lifelong businessman, entrepreneur, and student of leadership. He is currently the Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the University of West Florida.
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