Stress is a constant. We juggle work relationships and family responsibilities; we navigate traffic on our commute; we have to plan dinner or what to buy at the grocery store. Then there are operational emergencies, performance reviews and public speaking engagements. Today’s leaders work under extreme pressure. Just being a leader involves its own kind of stress, according to Richard Boyatzis and Melvin Smith of Case Western Reserve University.
While some stress can be motivating, they say, it also takes a toll—even low-level daily stress. It can affect our ability to think, mood, relationships, performance and health. Stress activates basic hormonal and neuronal fight-or-flight responses that may have been important in our evolutionary history but which don’t help us handle situations at work. Boyatzis and Smith say that an experience is stressful if it has an important outcome, possibly an uncertain one, if you are being observed or judged (and what leader isn’t?) or if you are angered or upset. Just thinking about any of these adds another dose of stress.
The solution to stress is renewal. Boyatzis and Smith prescribe daily doses of renewing experiences to counteract the impact of stress. If we don’t make it a point to engage in renewal to balance the scale, the growing deficit can result in unsustainable performance—a.k.a. burnout.
Boyatzis and Smith say that renewal comes from cultivating hope, mindfulness, compassion and playfulness. Engage in activities that will take you away from your daily routine and will refresh your energy, excitement and enthusiasm. Strive to give yourself a time-out from worry and work.
Coaching has a double benefit, according to Boyatzis and Smith. We often think of coaching and mentoring as something that will help another person, develop future leaders and make the organization’s performance better. It may be a surprise to learn that coaching has been shown to have a positive effect on the mentor by reducing stress levels. The authors also say that finding a coach of your own and enlisting the support of others can help you make renewal a continuous life experience.
Daily stress is something to take seriously. To remain a high-performing leader, be sure to nurture yourself with experiences that restore balance. And since emotions are contagious, when you let go of stress, you’ll reduce stress for your employees too.
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