There is a common belief that leadership positions carry lower levels of stress than non-leadership positions based on measured lower Cortisol Hormone levels as well as self-reported anxiety levels. This premise was confirmed by an article titled, Leadership is Associated With Lower Levels of Stress, written by Gary D. Shermana, Jooa J. Leea, Amy J. C. Cuddyb, Jonathan Renshonc, Christopher Oveisd, James J. Grosse and Jennifer S. Lerner – Harvard.
The concept seemed to rest partially in the fact that, even in primates, higher status lowers stress with the findings being that the more sense of control an individual or primate has, the lower their stress level will be.
While this is proven and makes complete sense, my question is what happens to the leader when they are struggling with their sense of control or lack of control? What effect does a stressful event or prolonged stress beyond normal levels cause in judgment, emotional IQ (EQI) and overall ability to prioritize actions and decisions?
According to an article written by Dick Thompson, Ph.D., President and CEO of High Performing Systems, Inc., I learned much of what my instincts have shown me over the years. Namely, when a leader has a significant stressor with prolonged stress levels, their priorities and judgment are often compromised. According to the research, a person under prolonged significant stress can go from an average EQI of 101 down to 80 with significant impairment in decision making, cognitive analysis and an enhanced emotional state lessening effectiveness and potentially leading to Catastrophic Leadership Failure (CLF). Think of leaders and companies that have imploded under significant stress…
When CLF occurs, it can manifest itself in several non-productive behaviors that affect the leader, team and the organization, including a major mistake, lack of listening, analysis paralysis, reactive nature, fear- or anger-based reactions/decisions, high degrees of emotion, wishy-washy flip-flopping, failure to make any decisions or some form of denial.
All of this is based on neurotransmitters and hormones as well as the body’s inability to control areas of the brain during these chemical imbalances. For scientific simplicity, the emotional centers of the brain take over and the higher thinking, more complex logic centers are “hijacked.” Typically, this is not a good outcome for anyone involved in the circumstance. While the initial flood of chemicals is good for the “fight or flight” reaction, prolonged exposure erodes cognitive ability.
Stress management isn’t a “feel good” discipline, but it is critical to the productivity and success of organizations. Our industry is a major solution to avoiding CLF. Let’s take care of our members and ourselves for the betterment of all. And, think about that extra shot of espresso… Once your stress is under control, consider these 10 leadership characteristics:
- 1. Know yourself: Good, bad and unattractive.
- 2. Know your team: Areas of proficiency, competency, accountability and weakness.
- 3. Have a strategy that is simple, clear and easy to articulate.
- 4. Execution without strategy is dangerous.
- 5. Strategy without execution is worse than meaningless, it causes a lack of faith.
- 6. Admit your mistakes, “own” them and move on.
- 7. Make decisions based on what is “right” for the organization not just what is “right” for you or your team.
- 8. Think through the impact of your decisions to all stakeholders: Organization, Members, Staff, Investors, Community, etc.
- 9. If you are experienced, you need to trust your “gut” instincts. If something feels “off,” it usually is. If it feels “right,” verify to the degree feasible, but don’t be afraid to make a decision.
- 10. Don’t try to be all things to all people. Have integrity and stick to your belief and value system.
Leaders have discipline. Being great at 1 – 3 things is much better than being mediocre at 4 – 8 things. Say “No” to things that take you off the course of your committed strategic wheelhouse.
Manage your stress, your team’s stress and lead with confidence!