The LeadershipZone for better leadership

Get into the leadershipzone – practical tools and ideas you can use to improve your effectiveness as a leader or manager

Leadership fundamentals: let’s talk about stress

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Leaders are under stress as never before: the complexities of their role, the competing demands on their time, the need both to deliver and be seen to deliver, all point to rising levels of stress and tension.  Good leadership means succeeding in the face of challenges; our decision-making and prioritising require clarity, not confusion.  Higher levels of resilience and practical coping mechanisms are vital to our life balance.

Back in the 1980’s I worked in the City of London reporting to Board Members of a financial services organisation.  The challenges of juggling family life and work were less talked about then, as was the notion that women should expect to rise to the highest level in the organisation.  I remember attending a talk by the CEO of an oil company to women in management, who stated bluntly that he didn’t expect to see women on the Board in his lifetime.

Looking back, I can easily identify the stressors: frustrated ambition is a classic example: as is the treadmill of working all out to meet deadlines, followed by exhaustion.  Low levels of recognition, an understanding of and a value for what you contribute, are other stressors.  It’s easy to look back on my own life and spot the tell-tale signs.  The issue is, spotting stress triggers, and preventing them escalating, before they take hold.

What actions can we take to reduce the pressures we place on ourselves, and manage the necessary stress in our lives?

Firstly, I want to recommend a comprehensive and intelligent book on the subject: “The Inner Game of Stress” by Dr. Edd Hanzelick, Dr. John Horton and Timothy Gallwey.  I was reading it over the weekend, in anticipation of writing a review in our Leadership Library.  My  mind kept going “oh, this will be great for X”, or “Y should really read this book” and then I realised, hang on – I need to put these exercises into practice in MY life!The inner game book is a great resource, and here’s what I recommend right now….

Recognising Stress Triggers

Back at the global financial services company, a woman was promoted.  I managed the company car fleet and we had a discussion about her car.  What I learned was an understanding that not everyone sees the same situation through the same lens.  For many of my ‘customers’, the car was a positive affirmation of  worth and status, but to her the car was a stress trigger, as she didn’t enjoy driving.

The same is true of many situations: what energises one person will stress another. Typically stress triggers come under these categories:

  • Situations
  • Relationships
  • Time and timing: for example times of day and days of the week

Being self-aware of what triggers stress for us is a great step in bringing it under control.

Control: it’s well known that a sense of low control equates to high stress: the more in control we feel the better.  However, real life means that we have bosses and others who exert greater control over us, and demand our time and energy.  Here are three key steps:

  • If you have control: use it.  Shine your torchlight of clarity on the pressures in your life and take responsibility for your focus, priorities and decision-making.
  • If you don’t have control but do have influence, practice it.  This means improving your social skills, building rapport and getting your points across concisely.
  • If you have neither control nor influence, then practice acceptance.  Sometimes life just chucks stuff at us, that we can neither predict nor prevent.  Acceptance doesn’t mean rolling over and giving up however: it means being flexible and preparing ‘Plan B’, building our network of allies and practising a positive attitude in the face of adversity.

Stress Management Techniques

Getting back into the leadershipzone means recognising and taking action about stress.  Creating space for relaxation and renewal is vital, yet this also means different things to different people.  Whatever your personal style, each of these areas needs our focus and attention to reduce stress:

  • Sleep
  • Exercise
  • Nutrition
  • Relaxation

The way back to the LeadershipZone is via the RenewalZone.  Shifting back into a better work/home balance is the first step towards reducing stress by taking back control for our own health and well-being.

I’m practising what I preach this week by focusing on the amount of fresh air and exercise I take – not just at weekends.  I’m spending more time practising relaxation and meditation techniques.  I’m looking forward to feeling sharper in my decision-making and higher levels of clarity.  Who knows, my team may also give me some positive feedback on my leadership skills.


Author: Helen Caton Hughes

Leadership and Team Coach based on inspirational and practical tools. Works with leaders around the world; trains coaches to International Coach Federation standards. Passionate about finding best ways for leaders to inspire themselves and get the best from their teams

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