Leading in Different Times #1: Set the Tone
Leading in Different Times #1: Set the Tone

Leading in Different Times #1: Set the Tone

This is the first in a series of Play notes about leading well during different times such as this one.

Tone is a simple, subtle, and extremely powerful leadership tool.

We need to set the right tone every day. Tone is the fundamental perspective we use to make decisions and act. The wrong tone makes everything harder and causes failure. The right tone makes everything easier and more likely to succeed. Our tone not only affects our decisions and actions, they heavily influence those of our teams. Consciously or not, take their tone cues from us.

During different times such as the current COVID-19 situation, tone is especially important. From concerns about working remotely or maintaining physical distance, to worries about business continuity and fears of lost income or serious illness across our communities, we face many things that can disrupt our tone.

When our tone is off, thinking about it can make it worse. Instead of analyzing, let’s notice then tune.


Tone doesn’t live in actions or words. The same action can have different impacts depending on intent. Words aren’t adequate to express tone. We best see our tone through feelings–not emotions but physical feelings. When we have a good-feeling sensation our thinking is predominately constructive and we are setting a good tone. When we have a bad-feeling sensation, our perspective is off and we are setting a bad tone. Here’s a simple example.

Amidst the worries about COVID-19, a friend wrote on LinkedIn:

I am on the road today to get my daughter from university. I used to be annoyed by these trucks on the 401 [highway]. Now I want to thank every one of these drivers personally. Take all the road you need!

John Fox

Notice how it feels–physically, in your body–to simply appreciate as John did. Reading John’s note, I felt a release or lightness in my chest. What do you feel?

Indeed, a big thank you to everyone in our supply chain and in our healthcare system.

Contrast that with how it feels to fear or worry–in any amount about anything. Note that while we might not want to admit we are worried, fearful, etc., our physical sensations will still ring true. When I catch myself I feeling tense in my gut and my breathing is shallow, I know I must be worrying about something. You may feel heavy, tight, numb, or exhausted in your gut, chest, head, neck, shoulders, arms, pelvis, or legs.

Given that everyone–even over the phone–is very good at reading others’ tone, which tone is best to lead with?

Tune the Tone

We can take control of our tone and therefore reset the tone for our organizations.

Whenever you catch yourself feeling bad–regardless of cause–tune your tone by asking yourself, “What’s one thought I can think now that feels better?” You will soon get a better-feeling thought, though it can take a couple of tries and some patience. Repeat this until you notice a better physical sensation. For me, it’s a tingling up my back. Sometimes it helps to write down your thoughts as you do this tuning process.

Tune whenever you need to.

Once you’re feeling good again, your decisions, actions, and interactions will be much easier and more effective. You’ll even have better ideas than you could have before tuning. Most important, your team will notice and come around to your new tone.

Next: Leading in Different Times #2: Reinforce Clarity

In your corner,


Image by マサコ アーント from Pixabay