Self-Imposed Pressure

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A leader’s success can easily be predicted by how pressure affects performance. But while the pressures that organizations routinely place on leaders can be tremendous, it’s the pressures leaders put on themselves that are often more powerful…and debilitating.

Pressures Imposed by the Organization

The list of pressures that organizations put on leaders is near-infinite. Here are just a few examples of what you already know this to be about:

  • pressures to increase sales, again and again and again
  • pressures to decrease costs, again and again and again
  • pressures to better accelerate and integrate change
  • pressures to do more with less
  • pressures to collaborate more fully and freely, especially with those who are historically not particularly productive or cooperative
  • pressures to deal smoothly and crisply with changing priorities, special requests, and executive overrides
  • pressures to build (or rebuild) reputation and credibility
  • pressures to speed time-to-market
  • pressures to not just meet, but hardily exceed quarterly earnings expectations
  • pressures to instill urgency in nearly everything and everyone
  • pressures to roll with political pressures, conflicting priorities, inter-department communications issues and the failed commitments of others
  • pressures to maintain motivation and morale notwithstanding decision-making bottlenecks up the chain
  • pressures to create and maintain effective workarounds to technology shortcomings and hiccups
  • pressures to freeze hiring, retain staff, minimize turnover, and manage output
  • pressures to be bound by ineffective policies and processes
  • pressures to resolve a seemingly endless flow of customer, vendor, employee, and shareholder complaints

Is any of this easy? Often not. But it’s what the job entails so we do our best to deal with it all as effectively as we can. And some leaders do that much better than others.

Whether you do it well or not, it’s quite likely that someone will notice and recognize – and hopefully reward – your achievements, if not the your efforts in doing so.

The upside can be surprisingly positive, just as the downside can be surprisingly negative, each being a resume-updating opportunity of its own – although for significantly different reasons.

By, and large, whatever job you’re in could quite easily be more accurately defined by the pressures it puts you under rather than a mere recitation of its primary responsibilities. (Do yourself a favor a bookmark that idea for when you’re preparing for your year-end performance review with your immediate supervisor.)

That’s why we get paid – to deal with all of that.

Self-Imposed Pressures

But then there are the pressures we put on ourselves that our employer may not even know, or care about:

  • our perfectionist tendencies
  • our fear of failure
  • our fear of success
  • our worry about buckling under an overwhelming sense of responsibility
  • our suspicions that we’re losing esteem with others because we’re letting them down in some way
  • our second-guessing ourselves
  • our losing our confidence and questioning our value and self-worth
  • our not being able to shake this growing sense of anxiety, uncertainty, and doubt

These are the pressures that cause far more disruption than most everything our employers put on us.

Why? Because it all happens internally. We do it to ourselves. And, unlike a cast on your arm or a patch over an eye, the signs are not particularly obvious…at first.

Sure, others can see our performance ebb and flow – especially if the self-imposed pressure starts affecting our mood. (And, yes, it WILL affect your mood so ignore the signs at your own peril.)

Even if others take note, chances are that, in time, more and more will. Your inconsistencies and changes in behaviors will become increasingly apparent…and unflattering.

Which only adds to the pressure you’ll be under.

But YOU’LL know what it is. And that begs an important question to ask yourself: “How well am I doing with that?”

Easing Up on Yourself

Think about it. How well ARE you doing with your self-imposed pressures?

Your answer matters.

Greatly.

Let me know if you need some help thinking it through.


Grit, Resilience, and Hardiness

In many ways, GRIT, RESILIENCE, and HARDINESS are more similar than not. If we were to differentiate, though, I’d say it this way:

  • GRIT is what keeps you focused and helps you push through, notwithstanding the stress
  • RESILIENCE is what helps you bounce back from a prior stress
  • But HARDINESS is the ability to actually thrive before, during, and after – and notwithstanding – the stress

So while GRIT and RESILIENCE are obviously very important, if you want to maximize your efforts, work on increasing your level of HARDINESS.

Building Hardiness…or Not

Figure inspired by : The Hardy Executive, Salvador Maddi, Suzanne Kobasa

recognizing hardiness

Think about it this way:

  • CONTROL vs. POWERLESSNESS is created by

    • Shifting from: Trying to Control What You Really Can’t
    • To: Addressing What You Actually CAN Control
  • CHALLENGE vs. OVERWHELM is created by 
    • Shifting from: Feeling Helpless and Dis-empowered
    • To: Creating Healthy and Doable Challenges and Stretch Goals
  • COMMITMENT vs. REFUSAL is created by

    • Shifting from: Thinking, “It’s Too Hard, Why Bother?”
    • To: Reconnecting with your Core Values and Beliefs

Doing so – even partially – will help you create a more optimistic (and less pessimistic) view and naturally shift from avoiding what’s stressing you (which only causes more stress) to taking action to resolve what’s stressing you sooner.

Which Begs the Following Questions…

  1. How might you have more CONTROL than you maybe realize?
  2. What’s the a ‘doable’ CHALLENGE inside the overwhelm you’re maybe feeling?
  3. And what is the larger COMMITMENT you’re working toward?

Try It For Yourself And See, Yes?

While grit is good, don’t just settle for being able to push through your challenges, regardless of its personal cost to you.

And while resilience is good, too, don’t just settle for being able to recover from stress.

Focus, instead on increasing your hardiness so that you can actually thrive before, during, and after – and notwithstanding – the stress.

For more, visit www.leadershiptraction.com/hardiness.

 


What, ME Worry?!

Photo by Helena Cook on Unsplash

Check out John Parrott’s excellent post, The Ultimate Guide To Stress Management – an impressively comprehensive and well-sourced look at the topic at hand…like his many other posts at RelaxLikeABoss.com.

Look at all he covers:

1. What Is Stress?
2. What Are The Symptoms Of Stress?
2.1. Physical Effects Of Stress.
2.2. Emotional Effects Of Stress.
2.3. Social Effects Of Stress.
3. Why Do We Feel Stressed?
3.1. ​Leading Causes Of Stress.
​3.2. Other Causes Of Stress.
4. Benefits Of Stress.
​​​​4.1. Positive Stress.
4.2. Enhanced Memory.
4.3. Motivation.
4.4. Resilience.
4.5. Caring For Others.
5. The Dangers Of Stress.
5.1. Heart Problems.
5.2. Anxiety.
5.3. Digestion Problems.
5.4. Suppressed immunity.
5.5. Different Gene Expression.
6. How To Manage Stress.
6.1. Change Your Mindset.
6.2. Exercise.
6.3. Take Time To Relax.
6.4. Meditate.
7. Negative Ways To Manage Stress.
7.1. Ignoring The Problem.
7.2. Drinking & Smoking.
7.3. Avoiding Others.
7.4. Dwelling On The Negative.
7.5. Emotional Eating.
8. Tips For Managing Stress.
8.1. Get Some Sleep.​
8.2. Try Relaxation Techniques.
8.3. Keep A Stress Diary.
8.4. Learn How To Manage Your Time.
8.5. Say No To Unimportant Tasks.
8.6. Treat Yourself.
8.7. Listen To Soft Music Or ASMR Videos.
9. Stress Management FAQs.
9.1. How Do I Cope With Stress?​
9.2. How Can I Make Stress My Friend?​
9.3. How Can You Stop Stress?
9.4. How Does Stress Affect The Brain?​

The infographics, alone, are worth a look-see.

Given that 79% of people regularly experience physical symptoms of stress – and all the ineffective (and negative) ways we try to cope – if you learn even one thing that helps, you’ll be ahead of the pack – although, frankly, I’ll be surprised if you don’t learn a whole lot more than that. I know I did.

So go. See. Read: The Ultimate Guide To Stress Management. You’ll be glad you did.



Leadership Move #16: Brainstorm WITH

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Much has been said about ‘brainstorming’ – and much actually misses the point!

Brainstorming is “a group problem-solving technique that involves the spontaneous contribution of ideas from all members of the group,” and is an excellent way to teach your staff how to think more creatively, constructively, deeply, widely, strategically, consistently and a variety of other adverbs that you’d like them to be able to do when they think through the issues and implications they face.

But when they don’t already know how to brainstorm effectively, what’s a boss to do?

  1. You can brainstorm FOR them – This is how most bosses do it. Rather than coach, mentor, teach, or show how to analyze and assess, most bosses just answers all the questions and surface all the options themselves. Staff’s role is to just back and wait. Does this work? Well, up to a point, yes it does – if by ‘yes’ you mean it brings everyone up to speed on a topic. But if you think it through, you’ll realize that this particular approach actually teaches staff how NOT to think, how NOT to wonder, and how NOT to consider much on their own. Why? Because the boss is already doing all the work (and seems to WANT to do all the work) so staff says, ‘Fine, YOU do it, then.’
  2. You can tell them to brainstorm by THEMSELVES – For more advanced teams, this is actually the choice of choice. But many work groups honestly don’t know where to start or don’t know what to do when the nay-saying kicks in. So for this lesser experienced teams, not much really gets accomplished when the boss just throws an issue ‘over the wall’ like that. In fact, many teams will procrastinate, if not entirely ignore your request, in hopes you’ll either forget about it or will revert back to brainstorming FOR them once they’re reminded.
  3. You can brainstorm WITH them – The idea, here, is to help them get started by framing the issue, providing a possible implication, and then encouraging THEM to identify additional implications, instead of just waiting for you. (Sure, you likely already have some really good ideas, but delegating is not about what YOU know or can conjure; it’s about helping them access what THEY know and what THEY can conjure. So, please, resist the temptation to be the smartest person in the room.) Too, since brainstorming is more about surfacing ideas than evaluating them, it’s important to show how to create a ‘safe place’ for staff to flex their mental muscles in this new way. Your job is NOT to discount – or let anyone else discount – someone else’s ideas – the evaluative/vetting stage comes later. At this point, your job is to simply keep things from getting bogged down.

Increasing the Flow of Ideas

Here are some quick and easy ways to keep the dialogue going:

  • say you’ll brainstorm together, but they need to go first
  • for every 2-3 ideas they they come up with, offer no more than one of yours
  • make sure new ideas build prior ones rather than rejecting them out-of-hand
  • encourage wacky thinking – the more outrageous the better! – and enjoy a good laugh at the outrageousness
  • encourage the ‘quiet’ people to contribute as well (“What might we be missing, Mary?” or “What are you thinking, Steve?”)
  • don’t fear silence – sometimes people need time to think and gather their thoughts
  • if you think they’ve stalled, get them to move around, change chairs, stretch, take a break, doodle – whatever helps reinvigorate the mood
  • and don’t lose track of the fact that the goal, at this point, is idea GENERATION, not option prudency. (There’s time for that later.)

Practice, Practice, Practice

If your staff has trouble brainstorming, you may want to INCREASE the amount of brainstorming they do. As people tend to engage more readily with issues that are already relevant to them, tell them you want to help them practice. Then ask them problems they’re having, what opportunities they see, what they’re worried will happen next and suggest you all just kick around some possibilities. Or you could just do it in stealth mode, by asking them, more readily, for THEIR views on a problem or opportunity that’s on your radar.

Remember, the point of the exercise is to get them comfortable with thinking out loud, more insightfully, more strategically, and in increasingly nuanced ways. So start with something other than your Number One high-profile priority. Brainstorming is a skill and to develop fully, skills must be practiced.So don’t worry if it’s slow-going at first. That’s natural.

Learning, after all, is an iterative process – one that brainstorming can definitely facilitate!

 


Leadership Move #15: Be Bolder

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Here are seven leadership moves to help you be bolder, more easily:

  1. Purposefully Push The Envelope –
    Show what you’ve got…and to see what happens. You can always apologize (mop up?!) later if someone thinks you went too far. (Remember: You have been given leadership responsibility for a reason – so lead.)
  2. Be More Visible –
    Let them get to know who you really are and what you really stand for. People, at all levels, are going to form their opinions about you, anyway, so you might as well have a say in what they decide. (Always participate. If you don’t provide input at the meetings you attend, you are actively diluting your brand – whether you think so or not.)
  3. Keep Focused On What People Are Counting On You For –
    Be relentless in delivering EXACTLY that…up, down, and across the chain. (Knowing your entire business, not just the part you’re responsible for, provides great clarity in knowing exactly what that ‘exactly’ is.)
  4. Take A Stand –
    Get passionate about possibilities…especially with peers and superiors. Let them know you’re alive, engaged, and ready to make some magic happen. (Volunteer and seek out special projects you believe in, as well.)
  5. Jump In Sooner, Rather Than Later – You don’t always have to wait for everyone to stop talking before saying something…learn how to interrupt politely. (It’s not always rude to intrude. Watch any good tv interviewer to learn how. Watch any lousy tv interviewer to learn how NOT to!)
  6. Innovate Through Experimentation – Dare to try new things. Don’t be afraid to fail…you’ll get more mileage from applying your Lessons Learned on subsequent problems and opportunities than you will from just dutifully taking the safe route. (Even a small scale pilot or test program can provide surprising value, regardless of its outcome.)
  7. Enjoy Yourself –
    People want to work with people who want to work. So help them realize that you want to work by showing them how much you enjoy the work you do…even if it isn’t always the case! (Modeling enthusiasm and effective ‘mood management’ are very powerful leadership techniques. Show ’em how.)

When you’re bolder in your interactions with others – they’ll respect you for shaking things up…and they’ll see you as someone capable of even greater things.

A word of warning, though: Be sure to do so RESPECTFULLY, though. Otherwise, you’ll likely be seen as more of a liability than a potential asset.