Running a business is a nail-biting, brow-beating, heart-pounding lifestyle. It’s the kind of wildly intense role that either compels one to greatness or dissolves him/her into a pile of exhausted goo.
Taking the time out to recharge and chill out is beyond counterintuitive when, by all appearances, there is an out-of-control fire raging somewhere in your world. Who has the time to employ stress management techniques or to think about self-care when there is constant, immense pressure to come up with inspirational, outside-the-box solutions to what often appear to be insurmountable problems?
Yet the most important relationship a CEO develops is not with a fellow colleague, investor, or even their customers; it’s with stress. This will make or break you.
So how do we carve out an effective way to turn stress into empowerment? By learning from those that have already cracked this code. Those who have been there, done that and emerged victorious; building a business, growing it, meeting challenges and exceeding expectations in the face of awesome difficulties, under circumstances that are seemingly impossible-to-navigate – and doing it all with a big, genuine smile.
There are many successful CEOs who have blazed a trail for you to follow. Ahead we’ll look at three solutions that highly accomplished leaders have employed to soothe their stresses, move through obstacles and free up their minds and energies to allow creative solutions to flow.
Be a Boss at Planning
In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
This may sound exceedingly obvious, but you’d be shocked to know how many put off planning more than a daily to-do list out of overwhelm.
Planning ahead and tackling issues early on are not just common sense for leadership; this is also a bona fide stress buster. Having plans and guidelines in place frees your mind to wander along more creative pathways because all of the more workaday details that you have to contend with are already sorted out or delegated. When your mind is not bogged down with one million petty concerns, you are freer to tackle big-picture problems.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos likes to avert stress proactively by tackling the biggest monster under the bed at his earliest convenience. Ignoring a problem can allow it to grow larger and more formidable, if only in your own mind. Says Bezos of tackling bugbears, “I find as soon as I identify it, and make the first phone call, or send off the first e-mail message, or whatever it is that we’re going to do to start to address that situation—even if it’s not solved—the mere fact that we’re addressing it dramatically reduces any stress that might come from it.”
Apple CEO Tim Cook starts his week off early by scheduling staff phone calls for Sunday nights. Having an outline of what you want to accomplish allows you to move through your day—or your week, month and year—without the nagging worry that some detail will be overlooked or forgotten. Everything is all planned out in advance and you can refer back to your original intentions if ever you feel like you are getting off track.
This is not to suggest that there will never be a need to reassess and change course, but having solid intentions in place at the outset makes these corrections less painful and laborious. You already know where you’re headed, sometimes you just need to find a new way to scale that cliff.
Rich Balot, CEO of Victra, hired a coach from coaching consultancy CEO Coaching International who helped him to, in his words, “organize the company, to take control of it, and most importantly, to plan the future instead of letting the future just happen.” The right mentor or coach can assist you in stepping back, taking a look at the results that you’re getting and then guide you in refocusing your efforts if need be.
The takeaway here is to get ahead of any potential issues as early in the game as possible, and to seek professional help if this is not your forte.
Open Communication: Make this a Top Priority
The second proactive stress buster allows for the creation of a harmonious circle—as opposed to the more commonly encountered vicious circle—of open and relaxed communication.
For Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, open communication is of the utmost importance in managing stress and in his opinion, is an essential for effective leaders. According to Nadella, “The key is to make sure you’re engaging in a dialog with your employees…You cannot have people burn out. It’s bad for your company, and it’s bad for society.”
A relatively stress free CEO is approachable and engenders an atmosphere of free and open communication that prevents misunderstandings and stalled interactions, keeping business humming along more productively. If those at the helm are on an even keel, the entire team feels inspired to follow that example.
It’s important to have communication within your team down to a fairly reliable science so that all of you are comfortably speaking the same language. Clear communication effectively eliminates instances of confusion that can slow progress and impede innovation, creating stress for leaders and for the entire team. A less stressful workplace enables minds to function more creatively and also makes your team feel free to speak up and share the fruits of that freedom and creativity.
Step Away From the Desk. And Turn Off That Phone.
So what else can you do as a busy C-suiter, stretched to the max, to become that stress-free leader who engenders the open communication that, in turn, prevents more stress?
The third stress buster attacks stress proactively but is also effective after stress has already reared its head.
One must look away from the problem and strategy in order to gain clarity. If you are disciplined about giving yourself downtime, even if it is just 15 minutes away from your desk to remember there is indeed a great outdoors, this will do wonders for refreshing your point of view. In addition, scheduling downtime before acute stress strikes can help you to cope with a more level head.
But what could be more counterintuitive than stepping out of the office during crunch time, when you are under the pressure of an intense deadline and trying to resolve a problem with all possible expediency? And even still, turning off your phone and unplugging from all communications?
It may require a lot of determination to force yourself to break the habit of immediately doubling down on a problem but stepping away and getting your brain engaged in a different way can be a great way to surmount creative blocks. We humans are not made to be tied to stresses and technologies all of our waking hours. But in these busy times, we need to make unplugging an unbreakable priority.
Meg Whitman who has enjoyed an illustrious career that includes stints as CEO of eBay and Hewlett Packard, among others, and she likes to unwind by going fly fishing with her son at least six times a year.
Warren Buffet plays the ukulele to get his mind out of a rut and working in a different way, while Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, goes for a six mile run every morning.
Whatever your breakaway tactic, just do it. Schedule downtime. Be serious about stepping away and letting go of tech for a few. Make this a mantra you live by, and your stress levels will respond in kind.
Averting Stress Takes Conscious Effort
Skill at handling stress with calm and grace is something that can take years of trial and error—and a good degree of hindsight—to acquire. Don’t be too hard on yourself if grace under pressure is not second nature to you, or if you feel the need for a little extra guidance in honing communication or planning skills so that you can be more relaxed as a leader.
It can be immensely helpful to find yourself an inspiring mentor who can guide you in making an honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses so that you can keep yourself—and your business—on track. It’s hard to edit yourself, to be brutally honest with your stress skillset, but it’s a level of insight that can not only improve your work world, but your entire life.