How CEOs can pitch calmness and control to their employees

Dr. Goulston explains that CEOs can increase empathy between themselves and their employees during turbulent times with this four-step pitch strategy.

Dr. Mark Goulston continues his featured series on advice for C-suite members. Dr. Goulston is an award-winning business psychiatrist, consultant for Fortune 500 companies and the best-selling author of seven books. His latest, Talking to Crazy: How to Deal with Irrational and Irresponsible People in your Life can be found on Amazon. Catch up on Dr. Goulston’s previous articles here.

Mark Goulston, M.D.

More things in life involve pitching ideas: from pitching a company to venture capitalists; products and services to your customers or your company’s opportunities to prospective job applicants. Even at home, we pitch to our families where to eat, what movie to see and what smartphone to buy.

With more employees becoming afraid of downsizing or the threat of technological obsolescence and structural unemployment, it’s easy to understand why people are feeling that their work life can spiral out of control. So what is the best way for you, as a CEO and leader, to pitch your people on how they can remain calm and in control?

Recently, I heard an amazing presentation by Craig Clemens, superstar advertising copywriter turned co-founder of Golden Hippo Media, who is passionate about helping people make an impact. In his talk, he outlined a four-step, ARCS formula for making an impact by getting through to people and leading them to take action.

RELATED STORY: How CEOs can lead their employees through uncertain and fearful times

For the purpose of this article, I will apply his formula to what a CEO can say and do to “pitch” remaining calm to his/her people during turbulent times and help them restore their sense of control.


A = Ask a question that will get people to say, “Yes.” For example:

  • “Have you ever had times when your immediate future was so unpredictable that you couldn’t sleep?
  • “Have you had a knot in your stomach most of the time and/or felt like throwing up?
  • “Did you also feel that nobody could say anything that could help you calm down or make you feel better?”
Photo – Shutterstock

R = Reveal you have been there.

  • “Although you might not know it, I’ve gone through several of those times when I heard that the company I worked for was going to have layoffs.”
  • “There were the times when I was laid off and I was given two week’s pay and I had to tell my family that we needed to move in with my parents or my spouse’s parents. Geez, did I feel like a disappointment to my family and myself.”
  • “I remember how I was sick to my stomach for days and had trouble falling and staying asleep. I can even feel some of those feelings now that I’m speaking to you.”
Photo – Shutterstock

C = Call out your discovery. Feel free to borrow this anecdote or come up with one of your own that communicates the same advice:

I remember watching an NFL game where a previous Super Bowl team had lost its 12th game and a sports reporter asked the coach, ‘Coach, everybody knows you’re going to be fired on Tuesday. What do you think of that?’

The coach replied: “You know I’m going to be fired on Tuesday, I know I’m going to be fired on Tuesday and you’re right, everyone knows I’m going to be fired on Tuesday. That’s not important, what is important is what can I get done to make my team a better team between now and Tuesday?”

What that taught me is that you have less control over winning and losing than you do over trying and giving up.

Photo – Shutterstock

S = Send them to do something.

  • Say, “This is what I’d like you to start doing beginning tonight: Instead of worrying about something that may or may not happen, ask yourself before you go to sleep tonight and then every night, ‘What can I get done by the end of tomorrow to make my department/team/etc. more successful?’”
  • Then add, “It will then be easier to fall asleep because you have a plan for tomorrow and every day thereafter and then when tomorrow and beyond comes, you’ll be more focused on what you need to get done and what you can and can’t control.”
  • Explain that you are asking yourself the same questions and are planning the next step: “As for me, I can already tell you some of the things I will get done tomorrow. I’m going to reach out to all of you and ask…”
  1. “What did it feel like to make that commitment last night?”
  2. “How did making that commitment make you feel with regard to your anxieties and worries and feeling out of control?”
  3. “Going forward, what is something you discovered that can improve upon this approach for you and all of us that you can share with us?”
  4. “I’m going to set up a forum on our communication network where you can share your responses to these questions.”
  • Then close with: “We are all in this together and we will all get through this together.”
Photo – Shutterstock

And to you, my readers, I would say the same thing.

Happy Holidays.

Join the Conversation: How have you remained calm during turbulent times? Tell us your strategies for coping with them on our Facebook page.

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