Henning’s Blog.

Leaders Should Decrease Stress

As leaders, our job is to make sure our team is not burning out and can perform at a sustainable pace for a long time. When people are under a lot of pressure and stress, we need to act and correct course.


I start all my 1on1s with a "traffic light check-in": Both me and the team member rate our current mental state and stress level:

  • green: Everything is okay, no elevated stress levels, and ready to have the 1on1.
  • yellow: A little stressed or distracted from other topics or ongoing problems.
  • red: Not in a good head state for the usual 1on1 topics, high-stress level or urgent and important problems that need to be resolved first.

Only after both parties have checked-in, we can decide to drill deeper on causes for anything that's not green or decide to let it be and focus on the other points on our agenda.


If you notice that team members are stressed, and the next 1on1 is too far away, immediately reach out to them directly. First, dig deeper into the issue at hand. Listen closely (or read in async environment) to their problems, don't go immediately into problem-solving mode.

In case of stress sources outside the work environment (e.g. personal crises), remind them that work can wait and offer a health day.

If the source is part of a work project, you can slowly enter in problem-solving mode. I find it most helpful to first "ease the pain" by helping to renegotiate scopes, finding help or delegating tasks away from them. It's crucial to follow this up with a learning, though. Use the next 1on1 to drill deeper on how to avoid these stressful situations in the future. Maybe there's a communication or planning problem, maybe a training or better reviews are needed.

Leading By Example

The final aspect to decrease stress levels in your team (and company) is destigmatizing it. Admit when you're stressed openly. Explain simply what you're going to do about it (taking a day, saying no, ...). Model the behavior you'd expect from your team. Admitting to stress can be perceived as a sign of weakness. If you don't clearly take a stand that it is not, your team won't learn from it.