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How to be a leader while managing your stress

You know how to handle your employees’ stress, but are you managing your own?

I recently had conversations with a couple of fine employees in different businesses who were being made miserable (yes, “miserable” is a strong word but it’s carefully chosen here) by stressed-out managers who were routinely passing that stress on to them.

stress techiniques.jpgHow was that stress manifested? Manager to employee communications were short and abrupt, and what minimal feedback was given was never positive. In both cases this was a significant change from just a month or so earlier when everyday interactions were of a much more positive, productive nature.

One of the managers even commented (with considerable self-awareness and candor), “I can’t let stress continue to get in the way of my relationships.”

He was 100% right. He shouldn’t.

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The ability to handle stress can be a leadership difference maker. Does a manager let stress overwhelm them and do they transfers it to employees? Or do they keep it under control and the team hardly recognizes they’re feeling it?

Because, make no mistake about it, stress abounds in business, especially in management ranks. Multi-tasking, difficult employees, deadlines, politics, pressure from above and below, considerable amounts of money on the line for successful performance…all these and more are legitimate stressors.

Everyone feels it to some extent, of course, but successful managers and executives have learned to keep the hounds of stress at bay.

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There are many articles out there on ways to minimize stress. Everyone is a little different in this regard, to be sure; different strokes for different management folks. Over the course of a long management career these proved to be my 4 personal favorites.

Search for perspective Some executives just seemed to have what I call “a crisis mentality” – an unerring instinct to needlessly escalate little things into big things. Most work “crises” really aren’t that – it’s a fair bet no one’s hurt or dying – and if you can find the objectivity and equanimity to keep events in sane perspective, that’s a strong start to getting a handle on the problem.

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Block time Lack of time is a huge management stressor. With multiple sizable projects I was responsible for, I often felt there weren’t nearly enough hours in the day to complete what I needed to. As my career went on, one productive tactic I discovered was time blocking: simply holding a block of time (e.g. one afternoon a week) and keeping it free from all meetings, calls, and miscellaneous interruptions. It gave me time to devote to what I most needed to – whether they were projects, presentations, or relationships with employees, and usually they were the things most causing me most stress.

Build a support network Many studies show that personal relationships at work are critical to a positive experience of work. I often used my network — colleagues I trusted and respected — as a sounding board to talk through gray areas and troubles when I needed to, and they knew they could do the same with me. The stronger your personal network, the better off you are.

using exercise to help with stress.jpgExercise regularly Saving best for last. Admittedly this doesn’t work for everyone, but it did for me. I’ve always loved sports (today at 64 I still do, though I’ve slowed down quite a bit, I must admit) and I was fortunate to work much of my career for a large company with an outstanding fitness center. I ran regularly at lunch usually three or four times a week for some 25 years. It was by far the most stress-reducing time of my day, and I know it helped me keep those unruly hounds of stress at least reasonably well behaved.

All personalities are different, to be sure. If you recognize that stress is an issue for you, I’d advise not ignoring it but confronting it directly and trying different tactics. Be creative. And when you find a technique that works for you (pun intended), run with it.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Predictive Index

Victor Lipman is a management trainer and author.

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