Stress. Capital S. Most blogs about management these days are inspirational approaches to Leadership that basically imply leading is not managing, which might be an accurate statement yet sometimes…it is not enough. A great example of this is that moment when you, Leader, you the boss, you who everyone takes for granted suddenly find yourself anxious, jumpy and basically on the verge of a panic attack.
Stress is a fact of life. It doesn’t matter how great a Leader you are, there will be a time when Stress will hit you too. It might not be related to people (yet normally it is) and it might even be expected (as in “end of the fiscal year”) but you will get hit. You are a person after all and so are those who work with and for you.
This blog is not about you working for them though, or how to become a better version of yourself, more passionate or inspirational. It is about two things: acknowledging that Stress affects you too, and helping you (hopefully) overcoming it. This is that time when we just talk about you.
I could put up a nice “10 things to avoid Stress” kind of article but instead, I’ll tell you how I deal with Stress and maybe this will give you an idea on how to do it yourself.
I engage my Stress. Acknowledging it is the most important part of it all. It is the first step towards trying to cope with whatever is stressing me out. I have trained myself to detect early symptoms of Stress and it turns out it’s not that hard. All I did was ask a few people that worked for me what they saw in me that told them I was getting all worked up, I took notice and then I was able to see for myself: I start messing with my hair, I get restless legs, I focus so intently on whatever I’m doing that I lose track of my surroundings. I snap at people. All these are telltale signs of Stress, all these normal…and all of this are really there once you know when to look for them. Once I see them, once I name them, I can engage them. Failing to do this basically ends up with me yelling at someone.
I back down. Sometimes that’s not easily done because being stressed is part of the job. You’re dealing mostly with what your people need, what the Company needs and what needs to be done. Stress is bound to appear at some time as a driving force that leads to results…at your expense. You can’t avoid it but you need to know it’s there. If you managed to see that and acknowledge it’s there, you will be able to control it. In my case it’s crucial I do because I manage medium to large groups of people and I feel exposed. What if, given the right amount of Stress and the wrong context, I end up giving the wrong advice, or lashing out to someone after a simple question that was just asked in the wrong moment? Once I am able to see I’m stressed and what in fact is stressing me out I can disengage.
I stop. This is the hardest yet most effective step. Once I’m stressed out there’s nothing I can do to help it but rather I focus on stoping it all together. I know for a fact that if I give in further I will end up either hurting someone or myself as I’ll go beyond lashing out, which is the opposite to being a Leader I guess. I force myself to stop by basically doing a small meditation exercise: I walk away from whatever I’m doing, find a spot where I’m not bothered and retreat to my mind. I focus on myself and try to breathe deeply, put my mind away from what stressed me in the first place, try to quiet the anger and frustration. I stay like that for as long as I need to, for as long as I can. Of course it doesn’t return me to a completely peaceful state, but it does put me back on a state of mind where I can think clearly and avoid further damage. To be honest though, sometimes it takes longer.
I turn to constructive thinking, and back to work. Once I manage to cool down I can’t stop there. It’s not time to rest yet. Stress usually leaves a mark on whatever you do and in my case that means people is looking at me warily. Time to fix whatever I broke through my Stress. Once calmed, if needed, I apologize and explained what happened to me. It doesn’t matter if it’s to a colleague, an employee or my boss. Apologies do a lot to help vent stress, and offering as many as needed helps me get to a point where I can start working again. It’s time to focus on whatever I can do in the following moments which basically is one thing: find the right path again, maybe try another approach with the knowledge the Stress just gave me.
I rest…and learn. The final step of getting Stressed is not sleeping it off just yet but rather using it. How did getting angry or frustrated help me do a better job? Did it leave anything behind or just a sour taste? Before giving in to the much needed rest (which in my case is a deep and long sleep) I set my mind to a final task: what was this good for? So far I was always able to get something out of a stressful moment. Sometimes I just sleep thinking about that and when I wake up, it’s there. Stress is about learning something to me, trying out my limits and getting a new edge, over and over.
Stress is nothing but a constant test, a remainder of why I do what I do. This is what keeps me from jumping over the edge and takes me back to a place where I can actually use it.
Stress I guess, comes with Leadership. It is about them, and You, capital Y.
Also published on Medium.