Leadership and the 5 steps to reducing stress

As a leader, you set the tone for the team, department and organization. Under stress you may appear and act differently than you intend. This impacts you and your team significantly. The “5 Steps to Reducing Stress” can help.

I received a call from a very stressed-out young lady. She had just started a new job and was feeling more than a little overwhelmed. She asked me if I would help. She was a new supervisor, eager to succeed, and she knew that as a new leader she might fall victim to the common mistakes new leaders make. She did not. What she did face, however, was stress — stress in the staff, stress in her own supervisor and of course, stress in herself.

No time to succeed

To give a bit of background, this particular young lady was supervising 15 people. There was an amalgamation of services offered at her place of business and she was responsible for ensuring the shift in supervision went smoothly. She visited each site, ensuring people knew about the recently formed head office.

She heard about the lack of communication and coordination that went along with this new structure. She fielded questions, filled in for no-shows, established new and complicated schedules all while learning her job. Her supervisor was short, abrupt and unyielding. There was no time, literally, for her to do what was expected. Within two weeks, her supervisor threatened corrective action if she was unable to complete tasks assigned to her within an arbitrary time frame. Of course, things came to a head and through a difficult conversation, this young lady found out that her supervisor was facing similar difficulties and admitted the stress from it all was overwhelming.

Unfortunately, after the conversation, nothing changed. That’s because it takes more than recognizing stress to reduce stress, but it’s a start. How can the “ 5 Steps to Reducing Stress” help leaders?

Step 1: Understand stress

It is important to know that unchecked stress in any organization and especially in the leader reduces productivity, increases conflict, and contributes to serious errors that lead to physical and mental harm. Leaders need to understand the impact of stress and not expect themselves or their staff to just push through it, work harder and work longer. The leader and the organization in my example ignored the impact of unreasonable workloads and deadlines. Don’t do this.

Step 2: Take stock

Review what is important and urgent in the short term. A leader and staff cannot operate successfully in the long term by reacting to the urgent. Reacting to urgent and important tasks triggers the stress response with no time to focus on the important tasks (see Covey, 1989 for task matrix).

Step 3: Manage the external

What can you do, as a leader, to help staff cope with stressors in the work environment? Perhaps it’s improving communication with a vendor or another department. Maybe it’s relaying good news about staff impact. What would make life a little easier? Ask staff to get the answers you need.

Step 4: Manage the internal

No matter what the job, people want to feel as if what they do matters. Your role as a leader is to ensure that happens. Connect their work with the values, mission and vision of the organization. Let each staff member know how he or she is contributing to the team’s success. Make sure to check perceptions, especially during difficult times. It is easy for people to focus on the negative aspects of work. Communicate successes, recognize accomplishments and reward innovation and creativity. Recognize and thank staff when a project successfully launches or deadlines are met. Celebrate. Create opportunities to trigger the relaxation response for the mental health and well being of staff members and you as leader.

Step 5: Take action

Select what will help you and determine what will help staff. Then, do it.

Genella Macintyre is an author and international trainer and consultant with a focus on improving the quality of personal and professional living. With experience in human resources management, executive leadership, personal and executive coaching, individual and family counseling, and program development and evaluation, she helps organizations large and small develop productive, profitable and psychologically safe workplaces.

Learn more about Genella Macintyre and her books at www.FiveStepsToReducingStress.com

Works Cited

Covey, S. R. (1989). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. New York, New York: Simon & Schuster.