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Dealing with stress at leadership level

GIVEN a lot of things that need to be done and too little time to accomplish everything, leaders must always intend to take even a little time out. Being able to involve yourself on all aspects of your responsibilities is both the most exciting and exhausting part when you are a leader.

However, true leaders know how powerful a certain level of stress can be to keep you focussed, to make you competitive, and to encourage action. Take note that anytime you have to give a big presentation or talk to an important client, if you are not at least a little nervous, you will not give it your best.

Nevertheless, stress can also be lethal, especially in today’s vile economic reality, where every professional is menaced by endless hours, lay-offs, and anxiety about what may come next.

Keeping perspective

It is crucial to acknowledge that no matter how bad the circumstances, or how big your challenge is, there are others in a worse situation who are probably dealing with it much better than you are. It is a fact that the current wave of economic turmoil is putting many a leader in very awkward positions. In these times of economic instability, many managers have to talk to their staff about cost reduction, possible retrenchment, and new ways to make profit. Such discussions can be stressful, and the manager may need to calm down afterwards. Here is a little scenario: Tawanda is an executive director at a major communications firm, and after delivering the dreaded speech he decided to go out for lunch at a nearby restaurant to unwind. While he was there, he noticed the cashier was in a wheelchair, and he also saw a blind customer trying to order a meal. Immediately he realised his problem would disappear, theirs would not.

Staying fit

Exercise is crucial for a leader’s success. Several studies have proven that leaders who exercise are more effective and deal much better with stress. Exercise helps keep emotions under control, and it relaxes and energises you. We know it is not easy to fit an exercise schedule when you are a busy executive. However, you must find a way. Everyone around you, and you yourself, will be thankful.

Opening up

Stress manifests when you hold on to too much inside, and leaders often feel they have to manage certain things by themselves. When you open up, you may appear vulnerable but in a good way, and that is what draws people to a leader.

Accept feedback, criticism

The better you acknowledge your strengths and your weaknesses, the easier it will be to remain calm. The more you welcome ideas and opportunities, the more powerful you will feel. However, this means you have to ask people to be honest with you, and you have to be ready to accept what they say even if you do not like it. Allowing for this will make you smarter, and will diminish everyone’s stress because they know they can speak and you will listen.

Reorganising life

Get organised and define your priorities, both professionally and personally. It is very common to add stress to your life by getting ready for a meeting at the last minute or by not sharing crucial information in a timely manner, and this happens when you are too worried about competition and secondary assignments. Most people live their lives in a very busy but undisciplined way. In many cases, we only care about doing things non-stop, without ever considering stopping certain things. Successful leaders make it a habit to select one unproductive thing that wastes their time daily and stop doing it right away.

Recharging batteries

Take time to slow down. Working long hours without stop will not make you more productive. To the contrary, it will jeopardise your performance. When you take time to recharge, you are able to do more in less time. Professional athletes know it very well: overdo it and you will get burned out.
Breathing is something that most people tend to take for granted. Breathing is a natural thing to us but in here, we refer to breathing that is deliberate and unhurried. To do this right, place your hand on your abdomen, right under your belly button. Hold it for one or two seconds and breathe out slowly. Perform this for more than a few minutes and you will become aware of how your heart rate slows down. Doing this will make you feel refreshed and more relaxed.

Smile more

The act of plainly smiling is remarkably capable of making us feel peaceful and happy. Scientists have said that smiling triggers our limbic system and make us more relaxed and calm. Doing this may make you appear silly but it will actually make you feel a lot better.
Let go of the stress
Stress tends to manifest itself more in some parts of our body than in other parts. The jaw is among them. To release the tension in that part, try to do this exercise. Put your index fingers’ tips on your jaw’s joints precisely in front of your ears. Clamp your teeth together and take a deep breath. Hold it for a few seconds and then utter “Ahh . . .” as you breathe out. Do this over and over again for several minutes.


Pick sensations and images that are most soothing to you and take your time to perceive the imagery inside your mind. When you are seeing the picture of the peaceful and comforting scene, take in even the smallest of details like certain smells and sounds. Spend a few moments everyday doing this while breathing deeply and slowly.

Create a mantra

Write down your personal encouraging affirmation. It must be short and easy to remember, and must have enough ability to boost your hope and mood to cope with nerve-racking situations. Whenever you are stressed, say your mantra about 10 times and notice how it makes you feel more collected and calm. Never let stress ruin you.
Spend a few moments each day to look after yourself and free yourself from stress. You will feel much better and so will your business!

Robert Mandeya is an executive leadership coach, trainer in human capital development and corporate education, a certified leadership and professional development practitioner and founder of the Institute of Leadership, Research and Development (LiRD). — robert@lird.co.zw/www.lird.co.zw.

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