Stress and Leadership – Measuring the impact on self, what about others?

A thought hit me several months ago – If being a CEO is such a difficult job (it is), then what the divorce rate is versus other jobs?  As it turns out a study was done, and chief executives had a 40% lower divorce rate than the overall average of all occupations in the study.  Their rate was 70% lower than dancers, bartenders, and massage therapists.  Here is a link to the study. Based on this measure, it can be said that leaders personally handle a lot of stress.

Conversation done?  Not exactly.  In working with teams and leaders I have seen it from another perspective.  What is the effect of a stressed leader on the rest of the organization.  For leadership and team development I use a tool called the Birkman Method.  The advantage I have found in this assessment is that Dr. Roger Birkman has found a way to measure not only surface behaviors, but underlying needs and the stress behaviors that result from needs not being met.  Here is an example.

Many senior leaders I have worked with have a work pace that is very fast, and have a high need for practical and tangible results. The Birkman uses phrases like a need for practical results, opportunities for physical action, and activities that focus on practical results.  When these needs are not met, Birkman describes the stress behaviors as acts without thinking, generates restless tension, and impatient/edgy

While leaders have to be able to handle lots of stress, do these behaviors sound familiar?  What is the impact of these behaviors on a team?  Peer relationships?  An organization?

It is great leaders can handle the stress.  But what about the impact it has on everything else?

Silence and Resilience

Picture of User:Silence.
Image via Wikipedia

People are often shocked when we review the results of their Birkman assessment and it identifies a need to recharge.  Those with opposite results are often surprised people need quiet time.  The really confused people work 15 hour days so they will be there when everyone leaves and they can have time to work without interruption.

  • In swimming they call it tapering.
  • In running it is called a recovery run.
  • In Europe it is called holiday.
  • In business it is too often called ‘something HR told me I have to do’.

Everyone needs time to step back and recover/reset their mind.

  • The serial decision maker needs to review which decisions they made that should have gone to their team.
  • The CFO needs to focus on a few items that the CEO graciously granted their request for more time, even if it only means an extra hour.
  • The super achiever needs to think when they smiled last – and realize they answered four calls from customers with abrupt, matter of fact responses.  At least one customer is offended.

Silence isn’t equal to doing nothing.  Silence in resilience is about cleaning the lists off the mental whiteboard and only putting one or two things back on for a short time so they get attention.

Training for resilience requires recovery at some point.

Silence – Creating it

Snowy day.
Image via Wikipedia

I have a weird tradition (at least according to my children) – I like to run in the middle of blizzards.  I have learned to love it because of the silence I experience.  Although I live in Michigan, sometimes it does not snow enough.

Most leaders I meet with display a real skill for driving action and results.  Through one of the assessments I use, the Birkman Method, some of those leaders realize they have internal needs for time to rejuvenate.  Silence helps them recover. 

Unfortunately, leaders don’t get rewarded for silence, only action and results.  The problem is without the former, focusing solely on the latter becomes a habit that can be destructive to ourselves and others.

Making a personal change requires focus and awareness, which requires some level of silence.  A mentor of mine, Doug Silsbee, teaches a technique that gives the body a moment of silence.  He calls it centering. Here is a link to his demonstration.  Our ability to adopt new ways of doing things or to deal with an unexpected event depends on our ability to center, to find silence.

If you don’t think you need it, at least allow others around you to create it. 

You do need it.  We all need it.