Thursday, August 28, 2008

Leading By Managing Stress

The college professor said, "I think the job of a leader is to remove stress from his or her employees." I replied, "I think one of the jobs of a leader is to help his or her employees manage stress for optimal performance."

How well do you help your team manage stress and anxiety throughout the day?

Dr. Robert Rosen recently wrote that PepsiCo's. former CEO, Steve Reinemund made it his mission to "light a fire in every individual to grow as a person." (1) During Steve's tenure, company sales increased by more than $9 billion, net profits climbed more than 70%, and earnings per share increased by 80%. Steve Reinemund understood that personal growth leads to professional growth, which creates organizational growth, which in turn yields financial growth.

However, growth creates stress. Too much stress creates panic. Too little stress generates apathy. The key is to find the optimal amount of stress without going over the edge. One way to do this is to look at stress on the stress performance curve seen below:


A - The Entitled - when leaders allow their team perform at this level, there is very little stress and minimal performance. People who perform at this level over a long period begin to feel this is their comfort zone and seldom achieve peak performance.

B - The Performer - when leaders provided the right kind of stress and the proper amount, they achieve optimal performance.

C - The ‘soon-to-be burned out’ Performer - when leaders allow their team members to experience the wrong kind of stress or too much of it, the people will perform, but soon they'll be over the edge.

D - The Anxious - if a leader allows the team to experience too much stress for too long, people become entrenched and performance inevitably declines.

The stress performance curve illustrates what you, as a leader, need to do on a daily basis -- keep people in performance zone B or get them to zone B. Here are several tips to do just that, especially when you're team is going through the stress of change:

1. Involve your team in decisions so they feel they have some control

2. Communicate what is changing, why it’s changing, and what's NOT changing.

3. Encourage team members to perform stress-relieving activities every day such as: walking, meditating, stretching, laughing...

4. Take baby steps during the change.

5. Keep the big picture in mind.

6. Explain where each person fits into the new change.

7. Ask your team to create norms to help them manage the stress.

8. If there is a sudden or unexpected change at work that pulls your emotional trigger, try the following, evidence-based, instant stress busters (2):

  • Take a mental time out so that you can temporarily disengage from your thoughts and feelings.

  • Shift your focus to the area around your heart, and imagine your breathing through this area.

  • Create a positive feeling by imagining a positive event.

  • Ask yourself what a more effective attitude or action could be.

These are just a few of the leadership tools we use in our classes to help leaders manage the day-to-day stress and anxiety of growth and change. Check out what a couple of professors from Harvard say about avoiding burnout. ( ) What tools have you found useful?

Keep on stretching,


1. Robert Rosen, Just Enough Anxiety, ‘American Management Association’s MWorld,’ Summer 2008, page 44 -- 47.

2. Bruce Cryer, Rollin MCraty, and Doc Childre, Pull the Plug on Stress, ‘Harvard Business Review,’ July 2003, page 102 -- 107.


Debashish Brahma said...

Great post, you are absolutely right not only it's happening in America but in emerging economies like India also.
Warm Regards

Dave Jensen, Leadership Expert said...

Thank you, Debashish.

My new eXpansive Leadership Model (XLM) teaches leaders how to manage the tension they already feel... to produce eXtraordinary results.

Warm Regards,