The recent economic meltdown has impacted not only the bottom lines of the companies but also the lives of a vast majority of senior managers and CEOs. Over-burdened, stressed, sleep-deprived and burnt out, they try to cope with Hurricane Stress that has hit them hard in the past few years.
How is it that they are coping with such a scenario? I spoke to twenty professionals who are in senior leadership roles in industries as diverse as IT, leather, chemicals, engineering and R&D to understand the contours of the arsenal these leaders use to combat stress. The sizes of the companies varied from 50 to 1,500, and the annual turnover ranged from USD 2 million to USD 5 billion.
I found the exercise to be pretty instructive. It led me to explore the practices adopted by CEOs and senior managers to minimize the adverse impact of stress in their lives and careers. It also gave me an insight into the kind of steps the managements are taking to address the issue effectively.
This is What They Do Differently
Using Stress For Positive Outcomes
The people who I found to be less stressed out were the ones who had perfected the art of time management. They had learnt to pace themselves. They had realized their own limitations and configured their working accordingly.
For example, the head of a regional manufacturing hub called upon to spearhead the company’s endeavours to influence government policy realized that he was out of his depth in handling such affairs. For quite some time, he was stressed out on this account. Gradually, he roped in another manager who had a flair for such activities. In two years’ time, he was not only handling the whole affair himself, but was also called upon by the company to handle similar challenges at the national level.He now loves what he used to detest earlier and has overcome his stress on this account. In the process, he has developed yet another USP for himself!
The Art of Creative Dissatisfaction
Almost two-thirds of the leaders/managers I spoke to had, subconsciously or otherwise, developed a keen sense of creative dissatisfaction. Rather than aiming for and insisting upon perfection, they went about guiding their teams towards achieving targets in a practical manner. Each time a target was met, there would be an informal session where, besides much back-slapping, an introspective discussion led everyone to discover what they could have done better. Most of the times thereafter, the team ended up achieving the target in a smarter way!
Having someone to share their troubles with – whether at office or at home – was a need almost three-fourths of them mentioned. the difference lay in the severity with which the need was expressed by each one of them.
Digging deeper, I found that their need for unburdening themselves was somehow linked to their managerial styles. Those who were participatory in their decision-making approach had a lesser need, perhaps because they enjoyed a higher degree of warmth in their relationships at work. In fact, a vast majority of them were spending a lot of their time on resolving some or the other personal problems of their team members. On the other hand, those who were rather dictatorial in their approach were living in a self-created vacuum. Their sense of loneliness was acute, and so was their need to speak out aloud about their frustrations. In almost all the cases, they sought it in their families, or amongst friends who were not related to their work place.
A Dash of Humour
A positive attitude and a strong tendency to laugh off things was another common trait. At least one-third of the leaders/managers I spoke to had even cultivated the habit of remembering and narrating jokes, poems or couplets to their team members even in formal meetings. This resulted in much merriment around, but a point was made with a dash of humour. Two of them even had the capacity to laugh at themselves, prompting other team members to be very open in sharing their failures and seeking feedback and inputs from others.
Spin-offs of Meditation
The most quoted antidotes to stress were hobbies, better work-life balance, exercise and having fun! At least five of them stressed upon the importance of meditation to overcome their work-related blues.
One of them spoke enthusiastically of Mr Matthieu Ricard (66), a molecular geneticist and confidant of the Dalai Lama. According to studies done at University of Wisconsin, scans showed that when he was meditating on compassion, Mr Ricard’s brain produces a level of gamma waves never reported before in neuroscience literature. The scans also showed a very high capacity for happiness and a reduced propensity towards negativity.
Two others said that meditation brings many benefits. It refreshes them, makes them look at their surroundings and events in a detached manner, makes them wiser and gentler, and improves their ability to cope in a world which overloads them with information and communication. In other words, they felt a good improvement in their own productivity levels, linked to their meditative forays.
I believe that even though stress is a result of external circumstances beyond one’s control, the actual impact felt by a leader/manager also depends upon his/her own inner resilience. If it is directly proportional to the external circumstances, it is inversely related to one’s inner resilience and work attitudes. It also depends on the personality type that we are. The perennially anxious ‘A’ types end up experiencing higher levels of stress than the often composed ‘B’ types.
When an aggressive boss misbehaves, no two team members would be affected the same way. One may take it too seriously, and feel despondent for days together; another may just brush it off and be cheerful the very next day; whereas, yet another one may look upon the incident as a feedback, view it as constructive criticism and start working on a definite plan to avoid a recurrence of the event.
Role of Management
I am happy to share that as many as half of the CEOs and senior managers I spoke to had already introduced remedial measures at the work place. The steps quoted by them included piped music, group yoga for ten minutes at the beginning of each day, a dedicated resource in the HR Department to take care of family and personal needs of employees and sensitization of all HoDs to be vigilant of signs of burn-outs amongst their team members. One CEO had even organized spiritual classes for his employees.
There are several studies to show that stress impacts productivity at the work place. The faster the employers and the employees learn to handle ‘Hurricane Stress’, the better would be the bottom line of the organization!