Under Pressure: Strategies For Dealing With Stress As An Effective Leader

Gaining perspective is a key step in managing stress as a leader..

Gaining perspective is a key step in managing stress as a leader..

It’s always something. Whether you are feeling stress because of external factors outside of work in the form of breaking news, the economic climate or family issues, or whether you are pressed by internal factors including anxiety about performance, deadlines and perhaps even downsizing, stress arrives.

You may want to curl up under the covers and ignore it, distract yourself from dealing with the stress, or keep complaining about it—which by the way, does not move you forward in a positive way.

But as a leader or someone who aims to lead as an entrepreneur or a manager, through most every situation, you need to work through the stress, manage it, dissipate it and carry on.

As a leader, you need to work through the stress, manage it, dissipate it, and carry on #womenleaders

This may sound dismissive, but many experts agree you need to put your stress in perspective. If that means making a triage list of what deserves your attention immediately and what can wait, what you can solve and what is ongoing, then (as the ad and cliche go) just do it.

According to Ivy Exec, a huge help is to gain perspective.

“Your job is not your entire world. While building a career is a top priority, it’s vital that you remember exactly what you’re working for. Are you building a nest egg for your family? Are you looking to help your parents retire? Are you trying to make a major change in your industry for the better? Are you itching to make a 40-under-40 list? Reestablish and realign your priorities around the bigger goals than your daily to-do list and you will find yourself newly capable of taking a 30,000-foot view of your troubles. Even better, when taking the wider view, you may find that certain tasks, which once seemed essential are really not necessary at all and can be cleared aside for more important work,” according to Ivy Exec.

And not only is it critical for your peace of mind to have perspective, but it is critical for you as a leader to offer perspective to your team. This keeps you and your team focused, productive and nimble.

“Leaders rated as having both high speed and high quality were absolutely clear about the vision and direction of the organization. They were also rated as better at taking a longer term, broader view. They were effective at defining that perspective and then sharing their insights with others so the strategy could be translated into challenging, meaningful goals and objectives. Naturally, knowing where the organization is going and which direction is correct would increase both speed and quality. Without a clear map, people get lost and waste a good deal of time,” according to Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman writing in Harvard Business Review.

Authors Zenger and Folkman looked at “information on more than 75,000 leaders including 360-degree assessments with ratings from an average of 13 raters.” Along with strategies to innovate, inspire, communicate clearly and shift direction, the team said these focused, productive leaders all considered external perspectives.

“Leaders who were consumed with an internal focus on the organizational problems and concerns tended to miss big shifts in the environment and customer’s preferences. This led to speed reductions and quality problems. The leaders who were top in speed and quality are skilled at looking outside the organization and identifying trends and changing mindsets early,” they write.

Yvette Butler, president of Capital One Investing, tells Laura Dunn in Huffington Post, that she constantly decides what is urgent and what can wait.

“As a working mother, I always have so many balls in the air – I need to figure out on a daily basis which balls are rubber, and which are glass. If my child has a school play, that’s my glass ball. If I have a board presentation, I may need to let some of my other commitments lag a bit. Being cognizant of priorities and allowing for balance (which may mean missing or postponing something I’d like to do, but simply can’t) are key,” Butler says.

“I urge working mothers to remember there are many versions of professional success, and it’s not necessary to drive full-throttle at all times,” Butler tells Dunn.

When Butler was going on maternity leave, she says, “I looked to senior women within my organization that made the decision to pull back at times throughout their careers, only to come back with gusto and rise to leadership positions. I realized how lucky I was to have the choice to pursue my ambitions at a pace that fit my lifestyle. We need to recognize that our situations are all unique, and our version of success may not look like anybody else’s.”

It may or not make you feel any better, but stress for women at work is universal.

In a study by the India Times, the results show that, “Every working professional- regardless of age, experience, gender and profile has felt the pressure of work-related stress at some point in their career. The study reveals 80 per cent of employees complain of stress at work, to the extent that nearly 60 per cent want to quit their jobs because of high stress levels.”

According to the survey, “While some level of stress is acceptable but chronic stress has become a common ailment for many professionals, issues such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, migraines, and heart problems start affecting employee well-being and productivity. “

And yes, it is true, that women do worry more about certain issues, and one of them is financial security.

Women do worry more about certain issues, and one of them is financial security #womenleaders

That throbbing worry about money for the future affects women more than it does men, and causes stress in everyday life, spilling over into work and making your work life stressful.

“In the nationwide survey of people 25 to 35 years old who participate in a 401(k) plan, female Millennials report uncertainty and stress related to saving enough for a comfortable retirement in far greater numbers than their male counterparts,” writes Catherine Golladay, senior vice president of participant services and administration, Schwab Retirement Plan Services.

Perhaps surprisingly, women value money security over health.

“When asked which concerns them more – being healthy enough to enjoy retirement or having enough money to enjoy retirement – 54 percent of Millennial men and just 30 percent of Millennial women surveyed say being healthy is the greater concern. Forty-six percent of men and 70 percent of women, the overwhelming majority, say having enough money is the greater concern,” Golladay writes.

But there are distinct strategies to handle the stress and make your life more manageable.

Shilpa Paney,  a certified Life Transformation and Wellness Coach, writes in Your Story that you can control your thoughts, behaviors and actions.

“Miscommunication, blame, judgments, complaining, and unclear boundaries are all energy drains. What energy loops can you close today? What is left undone or negative in your life? What actions can you take today to plug your energy drain?” Paney asks.

“Sit down and make a list of everything that is incomplete or negative in your life. What could you clean up today? As you succeed, you will be revitalized and have more energy. You will become clear on your passion in life as you begin to be present.”

It may sounds simple, but in stressful times, that can include not only what is happening in the world, but what is happening in our workplace and in our homes, attitude and outlook can be the deciding factor in stress levels.

Paney writes, “Every successful woman knows that it is her inner peace that determines where she is at all times. It takes courage to live your vision. When we embrace our fears, we realize that things are not as bad as they seem, and we find courage and strength we never knew existed. Courage is passionately pursuing what you believe in no matter how difficult it may appear.”

She continues, “Remember, our surroundings and circumstances are a reflection of our inner world.  If we have faith and conviction that everything around us will be for our good, we will be calmer in chaos. You may not be able to control every situation and its outcome, but you can control your attitude and how you deal with it.”

About the Author

Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldon www.micheleweldon.com