Practical Ways to Lead Yourself During a Crisis

As our world deals with the COVID-19 pandemic, we see that the uncertainty factor can be itself dangerous by causing fear and panic.

A leader’s job in times of crisis is all about alignment, and alignment is about focusing energy. To keep everyone else focused, it’s necessary to lead yourself first. Here are some practical ways to lead yourself.

Take control of your mind

The brain is wired to look for threats, therefore during a crisis, it’s difficult to stay centered. As a result, the mind runs wild with imagination leading to cognitive fusion and rumination. Cognitive fusion is when you believe every thought. Instead of distinguishing thoughts as opinions or interpretations, they become facts in your mind, which leads to rumination — worrying about the same thing over and over. Scientists know that rumination can create anxiety and depression.

Practical ways to take control of your mind

  1. Get present. Paradoxically you can only put together a plan in the present moment. There are only two choices: Panic or presence. Only presence helps you take the next right step.
  2. Notice your thoughts and ask yourself, “is this a fact or a fear?” If what you’re thinking is not a fact, say to yourself, “That’s just a thought.” Guide your attention back to what you can do right now.
  3. Practice mindfulness or meditation to calm yourself down. Mindfulness and meditation helps slow your heart rate, control your breath and steady yourself so that you can make good decisions.

Take control of your narrative

As much as people are afraid of the coronavirus, we should also beware the blame-virus. In other words, we have to stop blaming the “other” political party, the media, the past or present president for every misunderstanding or disagreement. When the chaos of uncertainty hits, leaders have a responsibility to even out the tone by being a voice of reason and not adding to the blame narrative.

When leading in times of duress, it is essential to be the role model. You must become responsible for your inner narrative as well as the language you use with others. A good rule of thumb is that if your conversation makes you feel hope, peace, well-being or calm, you’re doing a good job. If your conversation promotes division, separation or angst, you need to redirect.

Practical ways to control your narrative

  1. Refuse to engage in gossip, blame and games of “what if” and “They should have.” Redirect any conversation that stirs up lower-level emotions.
  2. Ask the question “What are our choices now? This question refocuses attention on the one thing you can control: your choices.
  3. Focus conversations on providing value and serving others. Generate ideas to keep business going. Discuss ways to help others. Focus on serving clients. Save political debates for later, not when people are in crisis mode.

Take control of your focus

What you focus on expands. It’s easy to focus on the danger. Enlightened leaders how to consciously shift focus to maintain a healthy balance. Instead of talking about what is on the news, make a decision to focus on one positive aspect every single day — one thing to be grateful for.

How to take control of your focus

  1. Rather than focusing on your own small view, make a daily effort to notice and talk about the greater good. Many examples abound: seamstresses taking the lead to create masks for health care workers, professional athletes donating money so that staff can be paid, retired doctors and nurses stepping up to help.
  2. Use a timer when working on projects. Give yourself 30-minute segments of uninterrupted focus while working on projects. No social media. No news. Train yourself to focus now and reap the benefits when things speed up again.
  3. Play a game. Pretend you are at a leadership boot-camp that requires you to focus on what you can control and where to take decisive action. Keep a diary of your own personal development.


If we have learned anything it should be this: A life-threatening virus doesn’t care about your political affiliation, the borders of your country, your gender or the color of your skin. It’s easy to get distracted by politics, negative news and fear, but these distractions do not serve the collective good.

The greatest gift you can offer to your employees is to maintain sangfroid. You can set the example by being a calm presence in the storm when you first take charge of your own mind.

Marlene Chism is a consultant, international speaker and the author of “Stop Workplace Drama” (Wiley 2011), “No-Drama Leadership” (Bibliomotion 2015) and “7 Ways to Stop Drama in Your Healthcare Practice” (Greenbranch 2018) and an advanced practitioner of Narrative Coaching. Connect with Chism via LinkedInFacebook and Twitter and at

Article originally published via Smartbrief.