Long work hours, heightened competition, demands for efficiency, and new laws and regulations are all challenges faced by executive leaders today. It often feels like we’re running up the down escalator — constantly in motion, exerting excessive energy with our adrenaline pumping just to get through a normal day.
After awhile, the demands take their toll. In addition to serious potential health consequences — including heart disease, the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S. — stress has behavioral side effects, making us anxious or depressed.
The result of that chronic stress can severely compromise our ability to lead. It affects not only each of us personally but also the teams we lead and the organizations we run. When we acknowledge the power we have over our people and businesses, this subject takes on real urgency.
Check your emotions
Emotions are contagious, so as leaders we need to be vigilant about the emotions we’re passing on to those around us. Are you carrying fear and stress to those around you?
Imagine different scenarios: a boss who responds to stress and fear by acting aggressively toward employees and becoming overcontrolling, a leader who appears calm but buries his head in the sand, or a leader who remains calm and responsive.
The first two will create fearful, stressed out or frustrated employees whose performance is stunted or paralyzed, while the latter creates an atmosphere of trust and confidence, where people are encouraged to act. Where would you rather work?
We can start by paying attention to the emotions we’re passing on to others and honestly assessing whether we’re contributing to their productivity or inhibiting it. If it’s the latter, we have to find ways to defuse our stress — through exercise, relaxation or levity — and avoid taking it out on those around us.
The ability to speak openly and honestly is a critical leadership behavior. If a team member isn’t performing up to par, avoiding a conversation only increases ineffectiveness and raises anxiety.
When we find the courage to have honest conversations, we create a climate of transparency and openness — necessary elements of healthy and productive workplaces.
At the same time, we relieve stress and anxiety by being proactive and confronting tough situations head on.
Being connected through devices means we’re always available.
But are we? Being available to everyone all the time can leave us unavailable at any one time. It’s hard to focus on the conversation you’re in when you’re constantly ready to respond to the outside world.
We can enhance our leadership by demonstrating that we’re present and connected in the moment, in face-to-face conversations. Those human interactions make us better leaders and reduce stress.
Be open to learning
A hallmark of effective leadership is openness to learning. Alvin Toffler, author of “Future Shock,” said, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”
As leaders, we’re besieged by information, and the contexts in which we work are changing daily. That’s why it’s more important than ever to be not only willing to learn but eager to learn as well.
Emotions are like an on-off switch to learning. If you’re resistant and fearful, you’re in “off” mode, and it will be nearly impossible to learn. If you face new situations as opportunities for growth with an attitude of willingness and curiosity, you get turned “on.”
Our leadership ability is directly correlated to our openness to learning. Once you’re “on,” learning isn’t a source of stress and anxiety but is a source of energy and creativity. ●
Donna Rae Smith is a guest blogger and columnist for Smart Business. She is the founder and CEO of Bright Side Inc., a transformational change catalyst company that has partnered with more than 250 of the world’s most influential companies. For more information, visit www.bright-side.com or contact Donna Rae Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.