How to Be a Human-Centered Leader when You’re Stressed, Anxious, or Freaked-Out

David M. Dye
5 min readSep 8, 2021
How to be a human-centered leader when stressed anxious

How to Be a Human-Centered Leader when You’re Stressed, Anxious, or Freaked-Out

Many people find it easier to be a human-centered leader when everything’s going well. But when you’re stressed and anxious, it’s easy to snap at your team, lose your temper, and undermine the culture you’ve worked so hard to build. If you have too many of these freak-out moments, your people will conclude that kindness is only for the easy times. Stress and anxiety are unavoidable, but you can lead through these times to build a stronger and more productive team.

It Happens

Karin and I are no strangers to the stress and anxiety that come with leadership. One time my organization faced significant financial stress and I was under pressure to deliver results that felt unrealistic. After three weeks of this stress, two of my department heads came to me and said, “You’re not David anymore. What’s going on? How can we help?” Apparently, I’d become terse, overly directive, wasn’t listening to feedback, and was snapping at people.

Karin shared a similar moment where she had a tough couple of weeks. A cocktail of challenges had affected her team’s normally high performance. They needed strong results immediately. She didn’t realize how much her stress showed on the outside until a trusted manager on her team called her and said bluntly, “You’re changing.” Her normally supportive style had morphed into frantic control. A second manager followed up to say, “Your style works. Stay the course. We believe in you, in us, and the mission. Every one of us has your back. Just tell us what you need.”

It happens. Despite your plans, investment in people, and hard work, there are always times of stress. Circumstances change. Emergencies happen. An unforeseen ball is dropped. What now?

Karin and I were fortunate in these two situations. Our direct reports displayed incredible courage and compassion–for us. They chose the human-centered leadership that we’d let our stress undermine. They gave us an opportunity to course-correct.

(Something to remember the next time your manager is stressed and not leading the way you would…

David M. Dye

I work with human-centered leaders to help them get results without sacrificing their humanity. I’m an author, consultant, podcast host, and love to hike.

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