Stress is part of life. Some people do their best work under pressure. Most executives are expected to perform well under pressure. They aren’t supposed to display any weakness. But even superheroes have their limits. Knowing where your stress comes from, how stress affects you and those around you, and how you can deal with it should help you perform better in high-pressure situations.
Better Under Pressure
In his 2011 book, Better Under Pressure, Justin Menkes, of the executive search firm Spencer Stuart, reveals the secrets of well-known business leaders who deliver their best when the going gets toughest. Through performance evaluations, behavioral interviews and cognitive ability tests, Menkes identifies three attributes that allow great leaders to realize their potential and that of their people: realistic optimism, subservience to purpose, and finding order in chaos. Read the first chapter here.
Maybe your stress comes from ignoring things that you should be addressing. Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos said in an interview with the Academy of Achievement that his stress primarily comes from failing to take action on something over which he can have some control. “What it means is there’s something that I haven’t completely identified perhaps in my conscious mind that is bothering me, and I haven’t yet taken any action on it,” Bezos says. He gains control by taking a first step to address it, via a phone call, an email, a personal meeting, or whatever it takes to get started. Just doing something makes Bezos feel a lot better.
One approach is to accept that stress is inevitable and prepare for it. Or more accurately, prepare your brain for it. In her Harvard Business Review article, “Prepare Your Brain for Change,” Margaret Moore, CEO of Wellcoaches Corp., offers ways to de-stress and de-clutter your mind so you can perform at your cognitive and creative best. Too stressed to read? Catch her on this 3 minute video where she offers simple steps for staying positive.
Relax and Breath
There is another way. Some executives — even NBA coaches— manage their workplace stress through meditation. New York Times reporter David Gelles, author of the best seller Mindful Work, recently defended his work on mindful meditation before skeptical CNBC news anchors and explained how the practice is changing business. In a 2015 talk at Google, he conducted a mindfulness practice session with the audience. For more, read “How Meditation Benefits CEOs,” by Emma Seppala of Harvard Business Review.
Over the last several years, a handful of Fortune 500 senior executives have taken their own lives. Senior executives face stressful situations but are expected to not show signs of weakness. Thus it can be it difficult to know if an executive is in distress. Writing for Carrier Management, in an article titled, “Managing Executive Stress,” Denise Haybrook and Kathleen Mahieu of Aon Hewitt identify several actions employers can take to help leaders manage stress in the workplace including creating an environment where mental health is as important as physical health.
Thinking of Others
Perhaps you are less concerned about yourself and more concerned about how others around you are doing. Maybe they are stressed in situations that you created. Louise Lee writes in Insights, a Stanford Graduate School of Business publication, about research into “The Peril of Power Without Status.” Jobs that grant control over resources but lack respect can ignite conflict, according to this research. Managers can reduce conflict by avoiding placing workers in positions that sit low in a corporation’s status hierarchy but that give them significant power over others.