Showing Up as a Stressed Leader
I’d been working with Adam for a month when he described a situation that had his stress level at an all-time high.
As Director of Operations at a rapidly growing company, Adam is ambitious, goal-driven, willing to take risks, and organized. When I was initially hired by Adam’s employer to offer support for the leadership team, his boss shared not only his positive attributes but also some areas that could use some improvement. To that end, she told me there are times that Adam comes across as aggressive, irritable, impatient, and competitive to such a degree as to negate any positive effects.
During our coaching session, Adam shared the ‘why’ behind his stress, and I learned it wasn’t due to one simple challenge:
- One of the five managers that reports directly to Adam just put in his two-week notice.
- The huge project they’d been working on for months was at a standstill due to backordered parts. This meant a late delivery to the customer was inevitable.
- Three of the seven brand new team members weren’t keeping up with training expectations.
- Adam’s less-than-professional response to a frustrated customer resulted in them pulling their account.
As Adam shared the many variables responsible for his current state, I watched his physical presence become more agitated, flushed, and restless.
Adam (whose name has been changed to protect his privacy) is a classic Type A leader. There are parts of his Type-A-ness that help him succeed. His blind spots, however, could ultimately prevent him from continued leadership growth and success.
Having been an employee at a company that experienced rapid growth, I remember the high expectations, high stress levels, and high stakes when errors were made. I also remember the great value that a sense of calm brought to the chaos.
Bringing Some Calm to Your Leadership
Calming energy is soothing to the nervous system and is a beneficial practice all leaders can incorporate to some degree. How to do it?
Here are ten tips to get you started:
- Listen fully. There’s a difference between waiting for your turn to speak and truly listening to what someone has to say. With the latter, recommended practice, there’s no interrupting. There’s no relating back with your own experiences. There’s simply an atmosphere of allowing the other to feel seen, heard, and understood.
- Stay present. Put your phone face down with the sound off. Close out of email and social media. Do the same with that swirl of thoughts that run nonstop through your mind. Share appropriate eye contact, a nod, a smile with the other person. Your relaxed, non-distracted state helps both of you more than you can possibly imagine.
- Make inclusivity the norm. Invite others into the conversation. Introduce your longtime team members to new team members by sharing something unique that you admire about them. Make more room at the table. Help everyone feel part of it (whatever ‘it’ is on any given day).
- Develop yourself. Self-development comes in many forms. A class. A book. A podcast. A new fitness habit like yoga or kickboxing. Meditation. A meetup group. Decide what interests you, what you already love to do, or what you’ve always wanted to try. Then do it.
- Slow down the pace. For a Type A leader, this sounds like a deal breaker. I encourage you to try it, though. Take some time to think before you speak. Use open body language to invite more collaboration. Work smarter by allowing your smart team members space to innovate and shine.
- Lighten the mood. Work and stress often go hand in hand. By bringing in some well-timed, lighthearted humor, you’ll defuse tense situations and add some fun to that thing called work.
- Offer empathy. Empathetic people intuitively help others feel understood. When a mistake is made or a client is angry, focus on how empathy shown to your team member might be the absolute best thing you can do in the moment.
- Set realistic expectations. Type A leaders are known for having high expectations. While I’d never discourage setting the bar high, the other part of that practice is understanding we can’t always clear the high jump. Toss perfection out. Invite compassion and inspiration in, and more often than not, those realistic expectations will be exceeded.
- See the good. Your brain focuses on the negative (Don’t take it personally. Mine does, too.). It’s where you’ll automatically go until you train yourself to see the good instead. Supplies continue to be on backorder? Notice how your team members improve their customer communication when they relay the delays. New customer inquiries down from last month? See your marketing team step up with creative, new ideas.
- Add a dose of daily gratitude. Did you know gratefulness removes jealousy, comparison, and the strong desire to be right? Take a moment every day to tune into your ‘gratefuls’. Your family. The weather. The little bird who hangs out near your window every day. The team member who’s really stepping up. Your health. The list goes on and on of how you’re living a blessed life. Take a moment each day to focus on just one grateful. The compound effect of doing so is immense.
Integrating Daily Calm
It’s refreshing to see, in my continued work with Adam, his great ambition dedicated not only to his many responsibilities but also to the inclusion of daily calm techniques. In doing so, his relationships continue to strengthen, and his achievements continue to grow. He’s remained goal-driven with one goal being the integration of calm in his everyday interactions.