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Leadership Best Practices

Three Simple Ways Leaders Can Stay Calm Under Pressure

December 15th, 2020

Pleasant looking calm woman meditates indoor, holds hands in mudra gesture, has charming smile, closed eyes, wears orange clothes, models over purple background. Hand gesture. Meditation conceptIn case of emergency, remember to remain calm.

Over the past year, school leaders, teachers, parents and guardians, and students have had to adapt rapidly amidst uncertainty and change. While school leaders worked to ensure our students would continue to receive a quality education, they were also thrown an abundance of curveballs such as considering students’ access to food and technology, social distancing protocols, covid-19 testing, positive covid-19 rates, the cancelation of sports and activities, and the social and mental health of their students and employees, etc.

While facing rapid and uncertain change, you had to react and make decisions in regard to the many other curveballs that were thrown your way.

As you reflect on the decisions you’ve made and your own reactions to different circumstances, did you remember to stay calm? Did you panic?

Calm Leaders Inspire Trust and Perform Better

As students adapted to new learning modalities and as parents juggled working from home with supporting student learners, they’ve looked to you as an educational leader to be a guiding force during the global pandemic. Maintaining a calm and collected presence in the face of uncertainty can help you to perform better and put those around you at ease.

In a Los Angeles Times article titled, Staying Calm Under Pressure Tells a Lot About a Leader, Joyce E.A. Russell reports that according to a study by TalentSmart, “90 percent of top performers demonstrated the ability to manage their emotions and stay calm during stressful times. This illustrates that in order to perform well under pressure, calmness is a prerequisite, as it allows you to think more clearly and choose your actions more carefully (Russel, 2016).” Even though that was written in 2016, the premise still stands. How we react instills confidence and trust in those we lead.

Three Ways to Stay Calm as a Leader

#1 – Stay organized and have a plan.

Leading during uncertain times is much like trying to captain a ship in the middle of a storm. It requires someone to be well organized and have the clarity to navigate to calmer seas. It requires the courage to make tough choices while maintaining stability and compassion.

Staying organized and remaining optimistic is essential for reassuring school staff and faculty that the storm will pass. In uncertain times leaders must prepare for worst-case scenarios. Maya Angelou once said, “Hoping for the best, prepared for the worst, and unsurprised by anything in between.”

School leaders are familiar with this. You ensure your buildings have plans in place for lockdown and fire drills. As we move forward into the future, leading your school during these uncertain times, it’s best to review and re-evaluate your plans for alternative learning formats and different scenarios.

Whether it be a disruption in a school building, a weather-related event or a global crisis, having alternative learning plans that focus on educating students outside of the traditional classroom will ensure that your school, staff and faculty have plans for any required deviation in instruction.

Benefits of Contingency Planning:

  • Being prepared for a specific scenario may help ease nerves. When developing a plan, ask for stakeholder input. Have open communication with faculty, staff, students, and parents/guardians. Evaluate what feedback you get that could help with developing a plan.
  • Develop a SWOT analysis from the data you received. This allows you to assess strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Identifying and understanding these elements can help you develop a full-proof plan.
  • Implement and practice your plan. The best way to know if a plan will work is to test it out. This also allows you to see if there are areas needed for improvement. It’s important to take information and address concerns. It will enable you to enhance your plan to reflect the change that’s needed.
  • Remember change is inevitable. It’s necessary to understand that situations change. Plans are a living entity and they should evolve to reflect changes.

#2 – Surround yourself with a quality team.

Being willing to surround yourself with people who are excellent at what they do is a great way to encourage a community of success. This is essential during a crisis. A great leader invests her time and energy in finding and hiring talent that has intelligence and expertise. Having a solid team in place is vital to ensure that plans execute accurately and run smoothly during an emergency.

Encourage your team to drive you when it matters most. Encouragement and support help develop the confidence leaders need in times of crisis. Surrounding yourself with a good team of people will open your eyes to new and significant ideas. This invites new opportunities amongst you and your staff for inspiration during uncertain times.

#3 – Take care of yourself.

To be effective in leadership during uncertain times, you must actively practice self-care.

It’s important to create a schedule that can fluctuate based on the needs of the situation. Make sure you’re taking time for rest, relaxation, family, and managing personal matters. Allow yourself to be available for pressing issues, but remember it is also essential to have time to completely shut down and recharge. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and have a trusted designated person available to take the lead on matters if you are unavailable.

Staff, faculty, and students depend on you. It can be challenging to find time while managing a crisis but working with a clear and rested mind will limit mistakes.

Russell, J. (2016, June 19). Staying calm under pressure tells a lot about a leader. Retrieved December 14, 2020, from

Sands, Anita (2020, August 12). In Times of Uncertainty, These Are 7 Habits of Highly Effective Leaders. Retrieved November 20, 2020, from

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