The Stressed-out Business

Leaders always face uncertainty. Now more than ever, changes in the economic climate mean maintaining a stable mindset just became an even more valuable commodity.


Kevin McAlpin

Stress is a common phenomenon in the wake of the financial crisis of 2009; but for executives, managing this pressure means not just dealing with their own anxiety, but that of their organisation as well.

In tough times, there’s a lot to consider — a poor business environment, constraints on credit and the need to cut costs.

The intensity of the tasks facing leaders has also rocketed; we’re now seeing some people combining three or four roles.

The resulting stress seriously reduces the ability of a leader to act wisely and purposefully for the long-term good of their enterprise.

The Power of Perspective

The good news is that company-wide stresses and strains can be reduced by being realistic, adapting aspirations, and accepting what cannot be changed about a situation.

Personal support, within or outside the organisation, is also key because quite simply: it can be very lonely at the top.

Of course, there are strains on the wider organisation, but what is important is leveraging the crucial role bosses can play in easing the stress levels across their company.

Stress is external, but it’s also temporary. It is something that happens to you that you cannot control. So, as a leader, focus on developing resilience in your people. Give them the tools to be resilient in themselves and their teams.

It’s really important to address this because when things get tough, people tend to treat each other badly and do things that are best for the short-term; it’s a form of self-preservation.

But this Darwinian mode won’t sustain them or a company through a long downturn, in fact — it’s very destructive. Organisations that go toxic go into a downward spiral of returns and productivity as morale suffers.

The First Positive Steps

The great news is, in addition to developing the resilience of their people to help de-stress an organisation there are a number of steps leaders can take:

  1. Avoid setting negative goals

Goals which dictate ‘we must beat our rival’, should be pointed more toward ‘we should aim to become the Number One’.

To use a sporting metaphor, you should train harder to run faster, not just want to knock your competitor off the track.

Internal competitiveness and reversion to command and control management often grows – and indeed is encouraged – in the tough times.

It’s the use of fear rather than motivation and engagement strategies that leads to a vicious cycle of toxicity and short-term survival practices.

This environment kills the very creativity you need from your people to get you through a crisis.

  1. Don’t crush people then expect them to save you

Leaders should be looking to challenge staff, foster joint accountability, allow them room to exercise creativity, and build a positive approach to competitive advantage.

A stress-busting executive will make sure they are rewarding success when it happens, make people feel good, that they matter, give them a sense of belonging and a web of supportive relationships at work.

Turning Stress to Success

These are the first concepts that will motivate staff and lay the foundations for long-term success. With the right approach and armed with the right knowledge, external challenges can be turned to renewed internal strength.

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