Making Stress A Constructive Force

Leadership can be stressful. But effective leaders use stress as a constructive force rather than allowing it to become a destructive one. Stress occurs when conditions produce awareness that some action is required to satisfy a need, to solve a problem, or to prevent some undesirable result. Without constructive stress, motivation would be at an extremely low level, and very little would ever be accomplished. Adopt the attitude that stress is a challenge to your creativity – a welcome opportunity to perform well. Constructive stress inspires people to act, to achieve, and to utilize more of their full potential for success.

Stress becomes destructive when the pressure to act cannot be met, or when one believes it cannot be met. If the perceived need to act requires more time, more money, greater skill or productivity than the individual can supply, the force of stress becomes negative. The result is physical or psychological damage – or both. Stress activates primitive emotions and increases body functions to meet a threat. If strenuous physical activity follows, the body returns to normal as soon as the need has been met and no further threat exists. But if the perceived threat is not eliminated by these activities, the body continues to prepare itself for meeting additional threat until a point of physical exhaustion is reached. All sorts of physical damage and ailments occur as a consequence of a continuous state of stress.

Even more damaging than the physical toll of stress are the psychological effects. Continuing stress that cannot be satisfied by a reasonable level of activity shortens tempers and frays nerves. It destroys the thrill and excitement of achievement because no accomplishment ever seems good enough. The resulting dissatisfaction with personal productivity causes a breakdown in relationships with people at work and at home. Undue stress hampers decision- making effectiveness, decreases personal productivity, and blocks creativity.

Minimizing destructive stress requires planning ahead and setting priorities. A system for handling every part of the work cuts down on the number of decisions that must be made day by day, transforms many problems into automatic procedures, and makes sure there is an appropriate team member to handle most situations that arise.

Managing By Goals

  • Clearly-defined goals and a written plan of action for both your work and personal life give you these stress2 reducing benefits:You always know where you are going and, therefore, feel little fear of the unknown.
  • Obstacles are not perceived as threats because you have anticipated them and planned how you will handle them.
  • Making choices is simplified because your goals serve as criteria.
  • A written plan of action for achieving goals provides ready-made decisions regarding specific actions to take.

Overall organizational goals and plans simplify the leadership of people. They specify the actions and activities needed and who is responsible for each one. The plan of action for achieving the goals of the organization provides standards and procedures for measuring individual and organizational productivity. You and your team members know automatically whether productivity is adequate. There is no need to wait until the end of the month or quarter and suddenly find that goals were missed.

When productivity falls short, a goals tracking procedure shows exactly where the problem area is and points to corrections that can be made before it is too late to reach the goal. Stress-producing vagueness about what is wrong is eliminated. Instead, you and your team members know where you are going and how you intend to get there.

Identifying Priorities

Determining priorities is a constant challenge. To minimize destructive stress, a working goals program outlines criteria for identifying priorities. The action steps for achieving the goals of the organization define which portion of the work is yours and what will be left to other people. One of the most effective ways to choose which activities you will perform is to evaluate their cost. Determine the value of one hour of your time based on your annual income. When you know how much your time is worth, you have a better standard for choosing items of work you will perform personally and those you will delegate. Just as you would not be willing to pay a hundred dollars for a cup of coffee, you should not spend a hundred dollars worth of time accomplishing a five-dollar task. Compare the cost of your time to the worth of the activity involved.

Keeping in Touch

One of the most stressful feelings an effective leader can experience is the fear of being out of touch with what is going on. It is the surprises that are devastating to organizational and personal productivity—not the anticipated obstacles. Eliminate stress by setting up an organized system for keeping in touch with your organization. Have clearly defined procedures. Design reports that provide pertinent information about the status and operation of the organization. Ask each of your key team members for a monthly one-page unit report. As the leader of your team, you supply the inspiration, direction, and support each person needs. No one else can assume this role for you. Your accessibility provides team members with the confidence to move ahead. Become an excellent listener and a keen observer. Learn to relate what you see and hear to your overall goals.

Preventing Burnout

Burnout is brought about by unrelieved work stress and results in extreme emotional exhaustion and dramatically decreased productivity. Prevention, of course, is the preferred way of handling burnout. And, it is just as vital to prevent burnout in your people as it is for yourself. Effective leaders are positive role models; they handle stress constructively to prevent burnout. Identify specific sources of stress, then plan and carry out appropriate actions to minimize or eliminate them. A variety of programs can be devised to prevent and reduce the stress experienced by employees.

Keeping Your Perspective

Remember why you made the effort to clear out the stress-producing mind clutter of old attitudes, old work habits, and old problems. Strive to enhance your enjoyment of life and your productivity by keeping all areas of your personal and business life in proper perspective.

Leadership Management® Institute
Reprinted with permission
Strategic Essentials is a Managing Partner for Leadership Management® International, Inc.

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