One critical characteristic of human beings is that each of us is very unique. We are born with certain tendencies and natural reactions.

Milligan bob
Senior Consultant / Dairy Strategies LLC
Bob Milligan is also professor emeritus, Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, Cornel...

You may well have completed leadership or personality profiles to better understand your tendencies and natural reactions.

As we mature, we learn that our natural tendencies, reactions and behaviors do not always serve us well. We learn to react thoughtfully rather than instinctively. Managers who are naturally very controlling (coercive and authoritative leadership styles) learn there are times when listening and coaching are more important than their natural reactions. Managers whose instinctive reaction is to lead only or mainly by example (pace-setting leadership style) learn they first need to teach, coach and engage their employees.

The challenge is that when we get busy and stressed, we tend to revert to our natural tendencies, reactions and behaviors – to become more instinctive. A great example is the owner of a business whose natural tendency is to be very analytical and to carefully research and study every decision. When this owner’s business faces challenges, the danger is that the owner will isolate himself or herself in the office, analyzing every decision. The excessive need for analysis paralyzes the ability to make decisions. He or she has fallen into the trap of overusing his or her natural tendencies when under stress.

Enter the pandemic. In busy or uncertain times, make certain you are not falling into this trap of reverting to overusing your natural tendencies, reactions and behaviors. First, you must take care of yourself.


David Horsager, a leadership consultant in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, describes taking care of ourselves as cultivating our SEEDS:

  • Sleep. Sleep deprivation is a major source of poor performance and a negative attitude.
  • Exercise. Needed to keep the body in shape and to give the mind time to relax and reflect.
  • Eat right. A well-functioning person requires the right fuel, just like a fancy sports car or your big farm equipment.
  • Drink water. Many of us become dehydrated when under stress.
  • Source of strength. We all need something to ensure that we keep our priorities in order. Remember what is truly important in your life.

Think about the consequence if you or another leader becomes less effective because he or she does not take care of himself or herself. That could happen to you. You must take care of yourself by cultivating your SEEDS.

You also need to take the time frequently to reflect back on your interactions with people to determine that you have not reverted to using your instinctive behaviors. Using our often-discussed listening tactic of pausing a second or two before responding will provide the time for a more thoughtful, less instinctive response.

Now let’s think about what you can do to reduce uncertainty and stress. Here are two ideas:

1. Take an active approach

Now is not the time to stick your head in the sand. It is time to jump right in and act. The action items need to be more focused on leadership, strategy and management. I have been saying business owners probably should be spending two to three times as much time on these topics as in more normal years. It is not the time to spend all or most of your time on production tasks. That would be sticking your head in the sand.

The military teaches about VUCA. These are situations that have volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. Today is certainly VUCA. The key to today’s VUCA is to take a breath, focus and ask two questions:

  • What can I control?
  • What should I do first?

Horsager states that the CEOs he sees succeeding in our VUCA are “doing the work.” They are thinking about what can be done for their business to use this time for a rebirth or renaissance – to start something new or a new way of doing things.

2. Overconnect with your people

Now is the time to show you care by being with your people. Everyone is some degree of scared, and most are feeling lonely. Verizon reported that, historically, Mother’s Day had the highest volume of calls of the year. Every day since COVID started has had twice that many calls. Also, half of the value of communication is lost if one cannot see the face of the person interacting with. Use virtual communication tools as often as possible.

As part of your overcommunicating and overconnecting, be certain to look for signs of stress. Everyone is under more stress and has less resilience than in previous years. I just visited with a client who just lost an employee. Based on what I heard, the resignation came at least as much from external stress as from what happened on the job.

Everyone is feeling great levels of uncertainty. You have the opportunity to work with your people to create a feeling that “we will get through this together.” Those team members will likely be with you for many years to come. These are eight items I suggest to build that team:

  1. Be visible (socially distanced).
  2. Listen, listen, listen
  3. Provide positive feedback and show appreciation.
  4. Ask for input and involve people in planning and decision-making.
  5. Be clear – “chalk the field.”
  6. Consider some form of consistent communication. A weekly email or text can create a sense of togetherness and team.
  7. Address conflicts with care and empathy.
  8. Be more of a leader and friend and less of a boss.