Stress seems to be part of every job description, particularly when you reach the C-suite. But that doesn’t mean it gets to take over your life. When handled correctly, stress can be contained, minimized and conquered.
We live in a brutal economic and competitive environment. Long hours, cutbacks, and fear of what may be around the corner take a real toll. In my decades of experience in higher education and leadership training, I've found that managing leadership stress comes down to a handful of critical elements: maintaining perspective, staying active, opening up, welcoming feedback, streamlining, and recharging.
Put it in Perspective
Managing stress starts with keeping your challenges in perspective. No matter how stressed you feel, there's always someone in a tougher situation. Remember, if you are having to present your organization with budget cuts, potential layoffs, mergers, or change of any kind, there are other executives and companies all over the world that are having those same difficult conversations. It’s how you deliver the news that will determine how others respond to it.
As we honored the fallen service men and women this past weekend, it really put things in perspective. Things could be worse. Your job-related stress will fade in time. But some have made the ultimate sacrifice doing their job.
Research from the Center for Creative Leadership found that leaders who exercise regularly are rated significantly higher in leadership effectiveness by their bosses, peers, and direct reports than men and women who exercised only sporadically or not at all.
Exercise can be a potent weapon against stress. It helps keep your emotions in check, relaxes you, and boosts your energy. It releases those feel-good endorphins in your brain that help you to see situations and people from a more positive perspective. This physiological change actually helps you to find solutions faster. It can be difficult to work exercise into a busy schedule. But, if you're not doing it already, find a way to carve out some time on your calendar. Your colleagues—and your family—will thank you.
Stress is also induced by bottling up too much inside. In difficult times, leaders often feel they need to keep information to themselves or make all the important calls alone. There's a simple solution: Open up. True, being transparent makes you vulnerable. But it also makes you real—and people are more likely to follow you as a result. And the benefit of transparency is two-fold: the more your colleagues know about what's going on, whether it's good or bad, the better they'll feel because they are informed. The more they know, the more likely they are to have ideas that might make a difference in the situation. And, sharing tough news with poise and positivity gives others a model for their response to difficult times. Employees appreciate a boss who shares relevant and important information.
Feedback Makes You Smarter
Opening up also requires another, and sometimes more difficult, step: welcoming feedback and even criticism. These bring more ideas and opportunities to consider. If you look at feedback and criticism as helpful, they can broaden your perspective and create new avenues for solutions, bringing a more empowered feeling. Ask people to be honest with you. You won't always like what they say, but letting others “push back” makes you smarter in the end. There’s a bonus here: having a voice also reduces their stress, which in turn, lowers the overall stress of the situation.
Streamline Your Life
This means getting organized and ordering your priorities professionally and personally. How often have we added needless stress to our lives by waiting too long to prep for a meeting or not sharing important information with colleagues quickly enough? Often this happens because we're distracted by competing, and frequently less important, tasks.
In Good to Great, Jim Collins puts it this way: "Most of us lead busy but undisciplined lives. We have ever-expanding 'to do' lists, trying to build momentum by doing, doing, doing—and doing more. And it rarely works. Those who built the good-to-great companies, however, made as much use of 'stop doing' lists as 'to do' lists."
Pick a single, unproductive thing that's wasting your time and stop doing it today. Eliminate something else tomorrow. You'll be trimming away stress at the same time.
Take Time to Recharge
In leadership positions, you tend to work a lot of long days. Be careful not to overdo it. A fanatical devotion to work will make you unproductive in the long run.
So, spend time with family and loved ones. Read a book. Trade jokes with a friend. Take a short vacation. Your organization won't fall apart in your absence—and you'll be better prepared to tackle the big challenges. After all, practicing the art of recharging helps you accomplish more in less time.
Being an effective leader is all about the habits that unconsciously guide our lives: habits of thinking, being, and doing. If you need help uncovering habits that are causing you stress, or inhibiting your employees from giving their peak performance, contact Joy today. She can help you create the habits that work FOR you instead of against you.