7 Leadership skills that EVERYONE should develop – number 5: manage stress and maintain wellbeing

Inevitably, leaders shoulder a lot of responsibility for the departments, businesses and organisations that they oversee. This does NOT mean, though, that neglecting your own health wellbeing and soldiering on regardless is a viable option: you’re no use to anyone as a stressed out, burnt out wreck who’s running on empty.

So here are 5 things to consider as you manage your own state of mind and wellbeing. And don’t tell me you don’t have time to stop and think about this – if that’s the case, you need to MAKE time!

1) Recognise the signs
Working under pressure is a little bit like the old ‘boiling frog’ metaphor: you gradually become more and more pressured until suddenly you develop a stress related illness.

It’s important to be able to distinguish between what, for you, is an appropriate and productive level of pressure….and what becomes panic or extreme stress where you might be appearing to function, but you know yourself you’re not making quality decisions, and are becoming irritable or obsessive.

Think carefully: when you start to feel stressed – WHERE physically do you feel stressed? Prickly scalp? Knotted stomach? Tense shoulders? Where?

Begin to recognise your own physical symptoms and consciously name them. Recognising and acknowledging these early signs is a key stage in being able to address them.

If you’ve been feeling very pressured, have a look at one of the many stress related websites (like www.stressbusting.co.uk ) to check out the symptoms of stress and compare yourself against them. If you want to be proactive about minimising stress levels within your organisation, have a look at www.stredia.co.uk, and speak to Gerard O’ Hanlon there.

Recognise also whether you’re going through a period of short term stress which you can manage and where’s there’s light at the end of the tunnel….or whether the pressures are long term with no end in sight.  The latter requires urgent action.

2) Re-evaluate what’s important
Find a pen and paper and make a list of the ten things that are most important to you. ‘Family’ can count as 1, rather than naming them individually, and the list can be in any order you like.

Be very honest with yourself here. Some of these things might be factors like ‘the need for recognition’ or ‘the need to be wealthier than my peers’ and so on – things that you might not want others to know.

Look at your list, and cross off 3 things which aren’t quite so important as the rest.

Of the remaining things on the list, cross off a further 2 that don’t mean as much to you as the others.

Of the 4 items you have left, pick your top 3.

How well do these 3 life priorities reflect the amount of time you give to them? For example, if your family comes out near the top but your job requires you to be flying all over the world all the time….where’s the balance?

If you look back at your life, it’s unlikely that you’re going to regret not having spent more time at the office.  Consider carefully what the important things in your life actually are, and begin to set yourself some goals around work-life balance.

Define what, to you, a more balanced life with less stress might look and feel like, so that you have a positive situation to work towards and don’t get stuck on a relentless treadmill of pressure, feeling powerless as it grinds you down.

If you’re trapped in a mindset that says ‘I can’t get off the treadmill – I have a family to support, bills to pay’ then give yourself a metaphorical slap in the face. Do your family want you to be a burnt out wreck? Do your creditors want you to become ill and be unable to pay your debts? No. Do yourself a favour and address the stress.

3) Retain perspective
Years ago I worked for a short while on a live, daily TV show. On one occasion, I was working with a TV chef who was assembling a pudding of some sort. Somehow, between the rehearsal and live transmission of the piece, a jug of custard had been moved from one side of the table to another, partially obscuring one of the camera shots.

During the debrief afterwards, some of the directors team were furious about the move of the custard, and went on a considerable length about the problems it had caused. The fact that no-one watching the show at home would have noticed – or even cared – didn’t seem to be a consideration.  Eventually, one senior member of the team brought the argument to a close by saying. “So a jug of custard got moved. Nobody died”.

Refresh your perspective from time to time. Take a step back. In the grand scheme of world events, where does it stand?

4) Don’t be a martyr
Pretending you’re fine and ploughing on is not an option. You might feel for some reason that this is the noble thing to do, but rest assured, it absolutely isn’t.

If you’re stressed, it’s highly likely that you’re irritable or moody and aren’t making quality decisions…which is going to impact on those around you and on your business or career.

Some leaders find themselves taking on too much because they don’t want their staff to feel pressured, working unreasonably long hours themselves whilst ensuring that their team clocks off at 5 pm.

What’s that about?! Learn to delegate, learn to trust the ability of others, and accept that you’re not earning any brownie points by being a martyr and are potentially establishing an unhealthy work ethic.

I used to work with one boss (I was very junior at the time) who pushed himself to unreasonable levels. The company was working on an important project that would impact the entire industry, and the stakes were high. However, he decided to model himself of Gordon Gekko, proclaiming that ‘lunch was for wimps’ and working long hours without a break.

I left before the project was completed, but I did hear that some time afterwards, that man had a breakdown. Was the project worth it? I’m guessing not.

5) Do something different
Make sure you have some out-of-work activities that are absolutely not work related. Golf. Needlepoint. Sky diving. Anything where your brain can have a chance to switch from pressing matters and focus elsewhere.

Simply trying to relax by doing nothing sometimes isn’t enough…the mind just wonders back to the stressful issue. In these cases doing SOMETHING –  mentally taking yourself somewhere else by reading, carrying out an activity, or going somewhere new – is the best approach to take in order to refresh and rebuild your strength.

Make sure that pressure doesn’t turn to stress. Don’t ignore it if it does.

If you look after yourself, you’ll be better able to take care of – and lead – others.

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One Response to “7 Leadership skills that EVERYONE should develop – number 5: manage stress and maintain wellbeing”

  1. Ember M. Says:

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