Courage and stress

Written by Katie Scutt,  NSILP Graduate 

How stress influences how we lead

In global crises like we are experiencing now, we are all likely to be experiencing higher levels of stress than we normally do.

This is on top of the stressors we already have. But what is stress, really? And how does it affect our ability to be the strong leaders that we need now more than ever?

​“…stress arises when individuals perceive that they cannot adequately cope with the demands being made on them or with threats to their wellbeing.” 
Lazarus, 1966

To explain this further, for us to feel stressed, we first need to perceive that what is happening is a threat (e.g. there is a t-rex in front of us) and then we need to perceive that we don’t have the resources to cope with that threat (e.g. it can run faster than us).

What is important to note here is how we perceive situations and our ability to deal with them is key to whether we feel stressed and overwhelmed or calm and clear headed.

It’s also part of the solution.

A lot more information on what stress is can be found here and ways to cope with stress here.

Stress, leading and good decisions

So how does stress affect our ability to lead and make good decisions?


For better or worse, stress influences our leadership behaviour.

It can turn us into great leaders in or we can unknowingly become part of the problem.

This in turn, has a significant impact on the stress levels of those who we are trying to lead.

Consciously cultivating positive leadership behaviours in times of stress, such as maintaining a strong vision, communicating a positive outlook and forming strong connections with our team members will focus our leadership skills and also reduce stress for ourselves and others.

Decision making

Leadership takes a lot of brain power, even in the best of times.

To make good decisions we need to address problems and make decisions all the while thinking about the big picture and keeping a watch out for threats to our progress.

When we are under stress, our ability to do this is reduced. This is ok and normal.

Remember, we are stressed when we feel like we don’t have the resources to cope with the demands placed on us. So, if we can find ways to increase the amount of resources we have, we can free up brain space and clear thinking.

Some ways to increase your resources include:

  • delegate, remember you are part of a team and getting through tough times is a team effort
  • remember its ok to ask for help
  • prioritise and cull things off your to-do list that aren’t immediate priorities; what are you trying to achieve and what will help you get there, everything else can wait
  • learn how to say no – when you say no to one thing you are saying yes to another
  • get enough sleep and take care of yourself – remember you need to put your oxygen mask on first
  • think about the positives, take a moment each day to reflect on what is going well

The bottom line

Stressful situations are going to affect us in different ways, including our ability to lead and make good decisions.

The good news is that if we take conscious, simple measures we can be the positive leaders needed to not only survive, but thrive in a crisis.

We just need to keep sight of our vision, bring our teams along with us and free up resources where we can so we can focus on achieving that vision.

Finally, if you or someone you know may be interested in delving deeper and exploring more tools and resources to deal with stress, click here for a free evidence-based e-course.