Miles To Go
Volume 3 | Issue 3 | Summer 2016
Leading Under Business Stress
As global markets continue to fluctuate and face a high degree of uncertainty due to increased geopolitical turbulence and unanticipated global business challenges (Brexit, terrorism, volatile FX, oil prices, ongoing cyber security issues, Middle East instability, US elections, etc.), many companies and executives are seeking to manage the repercussions of stress on their own businesses and people. According to a Regus Group survey of over 22,000 business people across 100 countries, 53% of the workforce reported they are under more stress and closer to burnout than they were five years ago. As recent research notes, some levels of stress, if managed correctly, can actually have a positive impact on performance. When you move from good times into challenging times, how you lead yourself and your team really does matter and will require a different style to keep your team motivated, focused and productive against the backdrop of increased stress.
As you face unpredictability and difficult operating conditions in your own role, there are a number of behaviors to avoid to ensure your and your team’s continued effectiveness:
Deflating the Team
When a business faces stress, executives often focus on and revert to well-known processes in order to feel as though they have more control over the situation. For example, an executive who focuses on expense policies or travel limitations rather than underlying issues will waste capacity in a time when the team and organization need people to be creative and innovative (and to show a lot of discretionary effort). The executive who reverts to “enforcing the process” will deflate the executive team and miss the forest for the moss on a tree.
Failing to Monitor Your Team’s Performance
Strong leadership is required in stressful times and you must re-assess all members of your team to understand their capabilities in this new reality. As a leader who is managing a team through a crisis or stress event, you must be attuned to your team’s various responses and respond accordingly. Unfortunately, you also need to be ready for some of your highest performers to disappoint you. Also beware of executives who focus solely on how their performance will be perceived in a crisis situation rather than thinking deeply about solutions. They can become highly emotional and personalize every discussion, making the team ineffective in its pursuit of developing plans that will lead it out of the mess.
From an organizational point of view, when a high-performing business starts to under-perform, the natural reaction is to panic and implement changes immediately. People generally have very good intent and want to be part of the solution, but in their quest to solve problems, they can run the risk of changing things that are working perfectly well. Under-performance requires you, as a leader, to absorb and focus the organization, preventing even further under-performance. Ensure that you are not panicking and getting caught up in the flurry to “activate” and implement changes. This means that you and the organization need to “go slow to go fast.” The “go slow” component means to step back and diagnose before activating on those things that require intervention. Ruthless focus and prioritization is equally important in a stress event—you cannot be overcome by your organization’s quest to “do things”; you must ensure you’re taking the time properly formulate solutions and do the right things.
5 Ways to Ensure Your Effectiveness
- Take care of yourself.The demands placed on you to carefully manage your thinking and emotions during stressful periods may test your limits. It’s critical that you take care of yourself both physically and emotionally as it will allow you to more effectively absorb stress. Maintaining your own well-being can positively influence your team as well; according to a Gallup research report, individual team members who reported experiencing well-being were 20% more likely to have other team members who also reported thriving six months later. Prioritizing and promoting behaviors that encourage well-being (good sleep habits, nutrition, exercise, periodic breaks) will not only increase your own stamina in periods of stress, but it’s likely to ensure your team won’t burn out as well.
- Be the absorber and the focuser. Maintain a calm, cool, and collected demeanor because this is the style that people want to follow. When you absorb the stress and panic, you can redirect that energy to help everyone focus on the problem, the facts, the supporting data, and the proposed solutions. Panicking can be contagious, and the moment you begin to exhibit strong symptoms of stress, people around you will begin worrying about personal implications rather than focusing on leading through the issues.
- Good thought process delivers good outcomes. Ensure that there is an underlying thought process to what you are doing and that you are fact-based in your leadership. It is important to first step back, diagnose, and THEN activate on the solution. Taking the time to develop a path forward keeps the organization ruthlessly focused on the right things versus chasing everything.
- Remain fact-based and data-driven. Even if you often rely on your instincts, you must ensure that someone is collecting data and validating or refuting your “gut instinct”. Be careful not to be overly influenced by the best communicator or presenter on your team (or the person who gets to you last). Being fact-based and data-driven will require you to consistently be Socratic, invite dissenting voices to the conversation and seek to deeply understand various viewpoints rather than simply “going with your gut”.
- Turn outward and leverage the team, seek and take advice, and make decisions in order to continue to move forward. Those who are ineffective tend to turn inward and start to micromanage, do everything themselves, push people onto the sidelines, and do not seek or take advice. Be on guard for this behavior as you will need to step in and support this type of executive as they can cause a lot of problems for the team and prevent delivering a good outcome for the Company. Triangulation is critical in stress events—you must have an inside and outside approach to ensure you are not being too insular or trying to solve every problem yourself. Make sure you have people who are effective and can handle stress on the problem / team, and be on the lookout for those who are trying to go at it alone.