Stress causer or Stressed? And what can you do about it?

Stress causer or Stressed? And what can you do about it?


Many in the work place are living with stress.
Whether you are the CEO, Executive, Manager or staff you are guaranteed to be suffering both emotionally and financially if there is stress in the workplace.

If you are a causing or suffering from stress you will be affecting the productivity and profits of the company, your own earning potential, your relationships with colleagues and your health.

In the main we all blame someone else for our stress, whatever the problem is, it is not ours! That’s why we’re stressed, right?  After all if we were at fault we could (or should) do something about it!

Hmm I guess you are cringing a bit by now remembering how you blamed someone else for an action, which caused them stress. Perhaps you never hit your sales target and blamed your support staff for not getting you the appointments, or your marketing colleagues for not giving you the opportunity or even your finance colleagues for not approving your proposals.

All of us are the cause and suffer the affect of work related stress. Understanding how to manage the situation is rarely taught.

That has to change. Newly appointed Managers and Executives are promoted for many reasons including having done well at a staff level, showing preparedness to work lots of free hours (sorry I mean go the extra mile) or just being in the right place.  Whatever the reasons they often turn up on the following Monday to take on their promotion with little idea of how to manage the key resource at their finger tips – their team.

I meet and hear of many Managers/Directors/or CEO’s who are praised by others for working hard, staying behind and coping with pressure. I have to say all I have met are not working well, or enjoying their new found position or their new team as much as they had imagined. They are often either frustrated (the good ones) because the new boss is not managing them well and they know they are under achieving, or they are just passively watching wondering when the “messy stuff” is going to hit the fan.

When the pressure finally becomes too much for the new leader they do not know what to do, so they often do what comes naturally – BLAME OTHERS. They are not always obvious in their blame game, perhaps the first clue is the e-mail stating “We’re off target and need to do something fast or the boss will be on us” which is as good as saying it’s your fault so get your finger out. The team, of course, know what is happening, they have seen it before in their previous boss. You can see where this is going, NOWHERE FAST except DOWN.

Both the CEO and the Executive have a roll to play in making sure this does not happen.

From a CEO perspective you need to know that your team is prepared for people management and not assume they will learn on the hoof, perhaps just because you did. Too much training is being cut back in these economically tight conditions and this is potentially a fatal move. The leaders that win in this environment make sure they have the best up and coming leaders throughout their organisations not just at the top.  A charismatic, dynamic entrepreneur can fail even with a great idea, product and plan, if their team are poor, at marshalling the troops.

No war has been single handedly won, an individual fight or small skirmish may be, but it’s no good believing that because you are (even if its true) inspiring others, that everything will just happen, it won’t.

Sticking with war as a metaphor, we hear much of great leaders, from Genghis Khan to Churchill to Roosevelt and many, many more. Not one of these “great” leaders ever won and nor could they have won a war without great people leaders below them. All may have been great strategists but a strategy with no one to implement it is a poor strategy indeed.

The most recent example of “great leaders” who lacked great people around them is of course, seen in our current banking crisis. It is easy to blame these leaders for the current problem and I have no doubt they were heavily culpable, but if they had great Executives below them then those Executives would have stood up and been counted when they knew (and i’ll bet they did) what was happening was wrong. We laud praise on those who achieve the quick win, we don’t seem to get behind them to check out how they are actually running the company. We need to do this to get comfortable with sustainability.

Many companies talk of investment in people but I’m not convinced, even if it is happening it does not seem to be focusing on the correct skills and in particular people management. We seem to be heading in a direction, which is focusing on short horizons, which is investor led and justifies lack of investment in people skills and focuses more  on fake financial justification to generate short term results. No investor is in for the long term so at some level this is understandable but as investors come and go CEO’s need to make sure they are taking the long view on people otherwise it is inevitable that at some point the company fades.

This brings me nicely to the Executive.

It is a fantastic feeling being chosen for promotion. We feel proud, vindicated (for our excessive hours) and hopefully a bit wealthier. We can’t wait to get home to our family so we can puff chests and revel in the deserved adulations. Then we wake up (if we are bright) and realise that we inevitably have gaps in our armour. Yes, we deserve, yes we will do our best and yes we want this with a passion. But, we have gaps, it is inevitable that when we begin our journey from specialist (e.g accountant) to generalist (Finance Director) that we have gaps in our knowledge.  Even when the management job you are going to is a specialist roll such as finance, there are always multi levels of specialty, which you may not have covered in depth. It is these very gaps that we must be aware of for they are often the cause of our future downfall, not because we do not master them but because we try to, instead of mastering people management. There is an analogy with sports here: Great football coaches are not necessarily great football players, they are great people people.

So, instead of commanding or pretending to know everything when you are newly promoted, demonstrate to your team that you are happy not to have to know the complexities of their jobs because your job is to create the environment in which they can win and coordinate their efforts and that you trust in them to deliver their part of the winning formula.

If you do not feel comfortable in leading a team don’t pass up the opportunity, the fact you identify the problem is a sign that you will win. People management can be learned, you just have to commit to learning it.

If this learning is to take place after you have taken up the post then make sure that in the interim you heed my previous point on not having to know everything. If you have a plan to deliver, the best leadership words to use when you first meet your team are, “OK, you know what is expected of us, tell me how you think we can best achieve it. When I have listened to you all individually (this gets buy in) I will give you my thoughts, which will lead to a plan of action”.

I have not touched on shop floor stress in this article because “if we get the top of the organization right then those below begin to reflect our behaviour. The top down approach is always the quickest and most successful approach to solving any culture problem

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