How to Be an Effective Leader When You’re Not Feeling At Your Best

Un gestionnaire se tient à l'extérieur d'une salle de conférence et passe en revue ses notes sur la façon d'être un leader efficace.

Have you wondered lately: How can I be an effective leader when I’m not at the top of my game?

The past year been difficult for everyone in different ways. I have yet to meet someone who’s teeming with energy and is on top of their game. Leaders striving to be effective while dealing with their own issues have the added challenge of dealing with their colleagues’ and their team’s stress and emotions.


1. Set reasonable expectations

In general, leaders set the bar high. They want their team to feel good; they want to perform well, look good in front of their peers, deliver quality results, and so on. Under normal circumstances, they can achieve this. But when the circumstances change, leaders need to adapt. For example, if you have less support, higher stress, more human resources management than usual—these are all factors that add to your existing load. Right?

Are you familiar with this quote (or a version of it)?

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

I’m drawing on its wisdom in an attempt to show you that when the context changes drastically, we need to alter the way we do things. For starters, we can:

  • Delegate
  • Learn to say no
  • Set clearer limits

Being short-staffed, lacking resources, or trying to stay in touch remotely are all challenging. Here are some examples that suggest that we should do things differently: when we feel that we need to be aware of everything when we’re tempted to double-check everything, or—the opposite— when we’re not used to contributing to a given task.

Here’s a diagnostic tool:

Using the guide below, describe in simple terms what is happening around you right now in your personal, professional, and social life. Having a clear view of your circumstances helps you realize what has changed. Then assess your current behaviors:

  • My context
  • What is new about this context and/or what is out of my comfort zone?
  • My behaviors, how I act:
    • What I’m proud of
    • What behaviors or actions I’d like to improve.

Finally, consider some course of action from your management skills: Do you need to better manage your emotions? Your stress? Learn how to be more assertive? Or train yourself to delegate?

For each course of action, indicate what you could do: read a book, read an article, take an online course, etc.

 2. Self-care

To some, self-care might sound like a cliché but it’s essential, whether you’re in a pandemic or not. If you want to have a positive impact on your team and your overall environment, you need to first have a positive impact on yourself.

We’ve all heard the saying: “Do as I say, not as I do.”

What I am asking you to do is to practice what you preach. Lead by example, first for yourself, so that you can inspire others. Here’s how to do that:

  • Consciously manage your time
  • Boost your energy
  • Communicate more

In other words, act with more intentionality. Take full control of what you can control.

As a leader, there are some things you can control, other things you can influence, and some matters that you can’t do anything about. For example:

  • I control my actions, my behavior, what I say, the development of my skills, the questions I ask, and the way I manage my time.
  • I can influence certain decisions, priorities, the work environment, etc.
  • There’s nothing I can do about other kinds of decisions, COVID-19, or the past.

Try making a list of things you can control and influence. I’m sure you’ll find it insightful. Spend 80% of your time on what you can control, 20% on what you can influence, and boost your energy!

3. Managing emotionally challenging situations

You’re a leader, but you’re also human. You might need to step in and deal with a situation involving your team, and you may struggle to keep your emotions in check.

An emotion is a message from your brain telling you to take care of something. Ignoring your emotions is neither helpful nor a strategy that I recommend.

There are different ways to acknowledge your emotions. Here are two of them:

  1. Letting go of your emotions through journaling
    Writing has proven to help people deal with their emotions. Take a sheet of paper and a pencil and write down what you’re feeling. Once you’ve poured out your emotions, scrunch up the paper into a ball and throw it out. It’s not meant to be stored and to be re-read in the future. The point is to leave your emotions on the page, without judgment, and then discard them.
  2. Talk about it
    1. Take three deep breaths before you begin
    2. Tell the person about what’s going on, even if it’s personal. For example, you can say:
  • I’m not having a good day. I have to deal with a difficult personal situation. I’m trying my best, so don’t take it personally if I’m more blunt than usual.
  • I’m having a hard time letting go of the frustration from our last discussion. I still don’t feel it’s the right time to talk about it, but I wanted to say it so you understand why I’m not as cheerful and open as I usually am.
  • (If you want to work it out!) I’m having a hard time letting go of some frustration from our last discussion. Before we discuss today’s topic, can we talk about what happened last time?

Whatever the case, don’t dump your emotions on someone else. The paper trick is a much better solution. Learning to manage your emotions in a constructive way is possible.


I hope it’s clear by now that trying to be effective when you’re not feeling your best will require more awareness and it’ll require that you change your approach, rather than trying to take on more. It also requires you to shift your focus to what you can control and influence.

Developing management skills such as delegating, resolving conflicts, dealing with others’ stress and emotions, managing your time, developing effective communication strategies, and building managerial courage will enable you to be effective and be at the top of your game.

Furthermore, learning to manage your own emotions is a crucial skill that will have a positive impact on both your professional and personal life.

Geneviève Dicaire, Professional coach and Speaker, Geneviève Dicaire created her coaching business in 2013, Unique coaching (french only). Working mainly at Ubisoft Montreal for 15 years in the information technology field, including 11 years as a manager, and leading several teams, she realized that she had a passion for coaching. Geneviève Dicaire has a diploma in computer science, a bachelor’s degree in management from HEC Montreal (where she won the award for excellence in business succession), and a certification in ICF Professional Coaching and Nova Profil 2.0. She assisted many companies and organizations to improve both employee relations and their work environment as well as helped many individuals improve their communication and leadership skills. Geneviève Dicaire, a gifted writer, has some papers published on the Direction Informatique, Éditions Vie Experts’ blog, and on her website Unique coaching.