Ask Dr. Jana | “Managing Yourself” as a Leader During Crisis

April 10, 2020


Dear Dr. Jana,

I am feeling a lot of stress. In the last few days I’ve had to let several people go. I know I should have done it before because they were “yellow boxers” but it was still hard to have those conversations. My sales folks aren’t able to sell anything, not even widgets.  One customer owes us quite a lot of money, and I am not sleeping well at night.  Even though I exercise regularly and am in good physical shape, my heart has started beating fast, and I am concerned.

– Bob


Dear Bob,

If you are having heart problems, you need to see a medical doctor. This Dr. Jana can only diagnose company health problems! I do not have the necessary medical training to be able to diagnose your physical health problems.  SO GO SEE YOUR MD ASAP.

Having said that, let me say a few things about what fear and stress can do to your body. While we can’t control the events around us, we can control our response to those events. You need to focus on “Managing Yourself” as a leader during this crisis.

Dr. Jana


As we mentioned in Module 1, the oldest part of your brain is called the reptilian brain and it controls your internal, automatic behavior including your “fight or flight” response to danger. At the moment 100% of the CEOs I know are sensing danger – even the 30% who are doing OK and happen to be in the right place at the right time with products people want to buy, e.g., hand sanitisers, soap, protective clothing for health workers, water testing, or toilet paper!

While we can’t control the events around us, we can control our response to those events. And as Franklin D. Roosevelt said during the Great Depression, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. When you are fearful, your heart speeds up in preparation for either “fight or flight”. But if your heart is racing over an extended period of time, that’s not normal, so go see your doctor.

I am not surprised that you found the whole process of letting people go very stressful; I hope it never becomes easy!  But I figure the pain your felt will reinforce the need to be careful about who you hire in the future (“look for green boxers”), about providing regular feedback to them on their performance as well as learning and development opportunities so they can continue to grow as the company grows.

But I suspect the stress you are feeling is related to a deeper fear that is exacerbated by the current events. In Module 3, we talk about “Managing Me’ and introduce the concept of the Spiral of Destitution. It usually begins when customers stop buying your products and ………. (pay attention to how the story unfolds) ……. you run out of cash and ……have to close the company, and then…. you lose the house….and your spouse and children leave you…. and you are forced out on the street…. destitute…. and then you die.

WOW – in 7 or 8 turns of the spiral, you go from not being able to sell a product – to death! Some people spiral down faster than 7 turns.  One CEO I knew had the “I’m going to die” response when anything went wrong! He began to realise that he was actually expecting things to go wrong, and his stress levels were off the chart.

It’s really important to become self-aware and recognise when you are beginning to spiral down, lose confidence, or feel anxious and fearful. You need to “manage yourself”.  I have two things I say to myself when I have received bad news or feel myself entering the spiral: “My mother said there’d be days like this.” and “Nothing is ever as GOOD or as BAD as you think it is this moment.”  Self-management, balance and resilience are essential in a leader – and you need to learn to manage yourself because you are one of your company’s major assets, even though you don’t appear on the balance sheet.

We all need to be able to walk on the edge – which is why I put that picture of the tightrope walker in your Learning Journal. When we were writing the book, “Lessons from the Edge”, a lot of companies were experiencing the bust.  I’ll never forget what one of the CEOs said: “The edge is a very tricky place to be. You are depressed that after all your hard work you are on the edge; you’re frightened and trying hard not to fall over. But all it takes is one phone call, one order, one introduction – and you’re back on solid ground and off and running again, with lots of opportunities to succeed. When you’re on the edge, you need to keep believing that you can make it, because as Henry Ford said, ‘Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’ll be right.’”

So – get your heart checked out by your doctor, and then learn to manage your stress. Catch yourself before you begin to slide down that rabbit hole and into the spiral of destitution. Stay positive and keep envisioning your company’s success.  You may not be able to achieve the growth you wanted in the time frames you wanted, but that’s not the end of the world. You’ll be fine – as long as you pay attention to the doctor!  


Ask Dr. Jana your questions on company survival and growth. Submit your questions via email to Dr. Jana and she’ll answer in her next ‘Ask Dr. Jana’ column.

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