As leaders, managing stress can be a challenge. We’re often overwhelmed with work, constantly multitasking, all while trying to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
So, learning how to manage this stress is one of the most powerful things we can achieve as leaders. Not only does it improve our overall mental well-being, but it improves productivity and instills a confidence that we can do our job effectively to our peers.
Many of us experience high levels of stress relatively frequently. In fact, studies have shown that our society is experiencing more and more stress as time goes by. This is often referred to as a “stress epidemic.” It’s a huge problem, especially when it comes to using power well.
When we’re feeling stressed, we have increased cortisol levels in our body. This leads us to see ordinary things as a threat, so we’re constantly on high alert. When this happens, we don’t use our power as effectively as we would otherwise. In fact, we tend to start to feel powerless. Stress makes us feel weak, and we start to lose our judgment.
Recognizing a need to pull rank
When stress takes over, we become especially vulnerable to what’s referred to as the “power paradox. The power paradox occurs when we become tempted to draw on the status our rank gives us in order to help us temporarily feel better. You’ve probably experienced this yourself or witnessed it in others. People become stressed and worried that not everything is right, and suddenly they become highly driven and perfectionist. If they’re the boss, they start to order people around as a means of reducing their stress. This is a poor use of power.
All of us feel stressed at one point or another, but if you have rank, you’re going to be tempted to use your position as a means of dealing with your powerlessness. Stress tends to lead us to feel powerless, and when we feel this way, we do not use our power as effectively. This is part of the power paradox and is something that leaders need to be aware of.
Dealing with stress as a leader
When most of us are feeling highly stressed, it’s usually a sign that we’ve pushed ourselves too far and have not intervened soon enough to manage the emotion. This doesn’t mean that it’s too late to do something about it, but you need to avoid waiting to get to this state before acting. Techniques like counting to 10 and breathing deeply can be helpful, but most of us find it hard to take these actions when we’re in a heightened state.
What I’m going to suggest we do is exercise more discipline and control when we’re not feeling stressed. We need to find time every day where we consciously withdraw from our work and sit, think, read, lower our heart rate and relax. If we continue to do this each day, we won’t be escalating our heart rate and building our stress one moment upon the other, leading us to become overwhelmed.
We need to reset and set back to zero every day for a little while. This is a critical technique. Some people meditate or engage in a simple meditative exercise such as packing away dishes, reading, or doing some simple stretches. Even if it’s only for five minutes, you’ll find this will start to make a difference and you won’t get to that place of heightened stress as often.
Managing our stress is essential when we’re in a position of power. Taking the time to consciously step away from work and slow down each day can make a big difference in how we interact with ourselves and those around us.
Paul Donovan is the founder, The Change Company which he started in 1999. He specializes in working with senior executive teams to facilitate the highest quality dialogue and decision making.