Stress Test Your Leadership

I recently conducted a needs assessment for a senior executive group and was surprised when one of the highest rated development needs was stress management. The topic came up again in training discussion when another executive group expressed a high desire to include stress management on the list. I guess I assumed in a climate where everyone was expected to delivery more with less (as is the case in most places) the topic would seem too “soft” to them.

Now I’m thinking maybe they were on to something. Instead of ignoring the stress, they’re trying to be proactive about it. If the business reality won’t change anytime soon, maybe we can better adapt to it.

If you’ve got stress (or even if you don’t), this is probably a good place to start.

Get Clarity

One of the quickest ways to create stress for yourself and others is to be unclear on the desired result. Ambiguity and unclear expectations carry extremely high costs! Ultimately, it’s not mediocre results that limit effectiveness, it’s any kind of results (good or bad) spent heading in the wrong direction. Clarity brings focus. It makes it easy to distinguish between otherwise good options.

Investigate, Decide, Act!

I used to think I had a good handle on stress and worry. Then someone recommended reading Dale Carnegie’s classic book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. It not only raised my awareness immensely – it gave me many tools to combat stress, and also to limit the amount I bring onto myself.

One such example is the decision-making process. There’s something about a tough decision with many consequences that can really test our mettle. Carnegie had a simple response to this situation. First, get the facts. The longer you delay, the more ambiguity you choose to accept. Once you have the facts, make a decision. The act of not deciding keeps the burden squarely on your shoulders. Finally, once a decision has been made, act. In fact, until you act, it’s possible you haven’t really decided.

Talk it Out

One of the best ways to solve your stressful situation is actually one of the most simple: talk about it. It’s uncanny how effective this can be. Putting a feeling or state of being into words forces us to articulate and interpret our experience. Then, what we need to do often crystallizes when we speak it. This is particularly true when speaking with a good listener. If you’ve ever experienced an “ah-ha” moment in mid-sentence, you know what I’m talking about.

In some instances, you may benefit from a conversation with a professional leadership coach.

Let it Go

It’s sobering to realize how much is outside of our individual control – and embarrassing how hard we try anyhow. Many years ago I heard the mantra, “Change what you can control, and for the things you can’t control, change your attitude.” Organizational politics isn’t worth it. Personal drama isn’t worth it. Choose your battles wisely. Better to let the small things go and save your energy for when you really need it.

Rest Up

I worked with a leader recently who told me she routinely fell sleep well after 1 a.m. responding to work emails on her laptop in bed. It’s normal to experience temporary stretch periods but that work style is simply not sustainable in the long-term. In the case of this particular leader, her stress transferred onto her team and her best team members eventually found opportunities in other organizations.

Setting healthy work and life routines is a larger discussion than this one point can address, so let’s simply focus on rest. Vince Lombardi preached, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” Can I be incredibly practical? It is squarely your choice what time you go to bed and what time you get up in the morning. Any stress you experience will be exacerbated by a lack of sleep.

The longer I go, I realize talent can be an overemphasized predictor of success. Other factors, such as responding to stress, often make the difference.

Nathan Magnuson is an executive leadership consultant, speaker and author of the books Stand Out! and Ignite Your Leadership Expertise. Click to see the exciting ways Nathan is helping organizations and teams become more effective with Leadership-in-a-Box.