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Marek Struszczyk

Co-Founder ManagerUp

Last modified: June 23rd, 2023

If we’ve learned anything over the last couple of years, it’s that the world can be an unpredictable place. It has been particularly difficult for business leaders to maintain the status quo at work while living and working through a global pandemic and now, more recently, simultaneously with the war in Ukraine. Being a successful and effective leader means you should know how to work under pressure, but all the planning and strategies that we have put in place aren’t going to be helpful during times of crisis if we can’t first manage ourselves.

As we’ve seen, pressure at work can come from many sources. It could be something completely beyond our control like a global pandemic, or something closer to home like the end of a fiscal quarter, preparing for an important client call, or opening a new business. The cause might be out of our hands, but how we manage through these times is within our control.

While it might sound counterintuitive, proper crisis management should start with managing yourself and focusing on your own self-awareness. For leaders to perform at their best they need to practice self-awareness. Highly self-aware leaders are better at evaluating their impact on others and managing their own emotions.

To achieve high levels of self-awareness, leaders need to be able to recharge, recover and stay fueled. Research has proven that people who exercise regularly have better physical and mental health.

Prioritizing restorative activities such as exercise, outdoor recreation, talking to friends and family, meditation, deep-breathing exercises, supporting household activities, and maintaining a proper diet are the best ways to ensure peak physical and mental condition.

I’ve put together a list of things you can do to start building your own self-awareness to help you manage through uncertain times.

Prioritize self care

As I have mentioned, the most important part of mastering crisis management is making sure you are taking care of yourself. At the beginning of the COVID pandemic, many leaders had difficulty handling the rapid changes in their lives while also dealing with crisis management at work.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that knowing how to work under pressure includes taking the time to properly manage your own emotional wellbeing.

The most effective way to do this is by investing time in activities that promote your own calmness and happiness. While this will look different for everyone, there are some standard activities that can get you started on the right path.

For example, regular exercise and proper dieting have been proven to increase a person’s physical and mental health, meaning you will be better placed to handle stressful situations. Other stress-reducing activities can include reading, playing games, going to a park or museum, listening to music, or creative activities like painting or writing. 

Self-care can also include seeking professional help from therapists or psychiatrists to help process your emotions during stressful work and life events. 

Remain connected

When trying to figure out how to work under pressure, it’s common for leaders to become hyper-focused on the problem. In doing this, it’s easy to let other works and personal responsibilities slip.

If you focus solely on high-priority items, the quality of your work and your personal life will likely suffer in the long run.

Staying connected with your friends and family is the best way to help you handle the emotional and physical weight of a stressful issue. Whether you talk about the problem or not with these people, the mere act of being around loved ones is a great way to lighten the emotional load you are carrying around.

It’s always a good habit to remain connected to the people who care about you and reciprocate that love and gratification.

Reexamine the situation

In times of crisis, leaders commonly find themselves stuck with creator’s block or writer’s block. Due to the repetitiveness of work and daily life, it’s easy to look at a set of issues through the same lens. When a complicated or important situation comes and the standard solution doesn’t work, it can be stressful and difficult to solve the problem in a calm and timely fashion. 

In these situations, it’s best to approach the problem with new, creative strategies. This can involve brainstorming sessions, applying strategies from other businesses and industries, or other unconventional methods that are typically used in your everyday life. Any way you can get yourself and your team to think outside of the box will help you overcome any challenging problem. 

The COVID pandemic taught many leaders to look outside of their own industry for solutions to managing through the pandemic. Harvard Business School examined a series of businesses that took – what became an – opportunity to respond to the pandemic in creative ways. While the pandemic disrupted businesses in different ways, leaders quickly realized that some responses were applicable, with variation, across multiple industries. From product innovation and business partnering to supply chain redesign, business leaders found a way to manage.

Understand your purpose

During stressful situations, leaders can easily lose sight of their purpose. Once again, the pandemic highlighted how little control we have over daily events and it taught us that while having goals is important, it is more important to understand the motivation behind those goals. We need goals that can adapt to external influences while holding strong to our main purpose.

Before the pandemic, many people had established career goals such as a promotion, new projects, or even career changes. Fast-forward a couple of years and the pandemic stripped many of these possibilities away, and with it, the motivating factor many managers relied on.

Many people became disenfranchised, losing value in themselves and becoming stuck with their everyday work.

That is why it’s important to understand how your work goals align with your overall purpose in life during uncertain times. Leaders must make time in their life to evaluate what is meaningful to them and how to effectively work towards those goals.

Be charitable with your time

It can be unsettling to feel out of control during times of crisis. That’s why it can be incredibly helpful to be a powerful force in a situation within your control. And being in control in varied situations can ultimately teach you how to work under pressure in a professional environment.

For example, when leaders take time out of their busy week to help a colleague or a local charity, it can provide a sense of purpose and accomplishment outside their professional work.

By focusing your sense of accomplishment solely on your work endeavors you risk creating a more stressful environment. Breaking this cycle by helping others can alleviate some of the work-related stress you’re feeling. Whether it is volunteering for a local charity or giving your time to a loved one, acts of service can help relieve feelings of stress and anxiety from other parts of your life.

Unplug from the world

The amount of time people spend with electronics is alarming. For some people it means waking up in the middle of the night to check their email, for others, it’s doom scrolling while watching TV. 

While it can be tempting to immerse yourself in the daily news cycle of wars, pandemics, political corruption, and so on, this can be harmful to your mental health and professional proficiency. While it’s not wise to ignore these world events entirely, if leaders don’t give themselves a break it can be damaging to their personal and professional lives.

In truth, unplugging entirely is impossible. However, you should make an effort to disconnect from work, social media, and electronics for at least part of every day. Doing so has not only been proven to relieve stress but to also stimulate your creative muscles. 

Be proactive in improving crisis management abilities

Crisis management is an important skill that all successful leaders need to master. Effectively navigating yourself and your team through a stressful situation is what will determine whether you’re a good manager or not.

While many leaders focus on learning various business strategies and analytical skills to prepare for a crisis (which are important), most people forget to prioritize their personal well-being at the same time.

If you prioritize self-care, you will be better placed to manage yourself during times of crisis both professionally and personally.

Investing in yourself is the best investment you can make as a leader.


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