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How Effective Are You Under Stress?

Alex Chan,RHU,CHS,CFP,CPCA,EPC,CFSB,CLU profile photo

Alex Chan,RHU,CHS,CFP,CPCA,EPC,CFSB,CLU

Certified Financial Planner & Chartered Life Underwriter
Belvedere Financial Solutions Limited
Cell : 604.649.3829
Langley Office : 604.513.1177
Vancouver Office : 604.689.8289

We hear each day through the media how our world is constantly changing, high velocity and volatile, impacting all aspects of our lives including our work life. I coach many CEO’s and not one of them could confidently tell you what is going to happen tomorrow.


Stephen Schwarzman, CEO and Co-Founder of Blackstone wrote a book based on his experience handling stress as an executive, What it Takes to Handle a Crisis (Lessons in the Pursuit of Excellence)

CNBC

Long past is a stable and predictable world. Instead, we have a shape shifting world that creates high levels of uncertainty across several dimensions. For many of us these uncertainties generate stress, and this stress is amplified by various other factors like the hybrid work environment where there is less human to human contact and the situation your company is in relative to its competitive environment. I have written in previous pieces that even the most successful technology companies once thought of as employing individuals without question (even if they are mediocre) have taken a much harder stance on performance and have announced many rounds of layoffs. Another piece I wrote recently was on the topic of whether we had reached peak employment in the USA and how there is more evidence from the difficult job market that this may be a reality. All of this means that one of our performance indicators and differentiators will be the ability to perform at a very high level in a continuously high stress environment and those that have the toolkit to do so will separate themselves from those that do not.

Many people assume that because an executive operates effectively when things are generally good and mostly calm that they will be equally good when they are placed under stress and pressure. My experience coaching hundreds of the most successful leaders is that this is generally not the case. Yes, there are those ambidextrous executives who can perform well when it is calm water and equally well in the North Atlantic but for many people, when they are under some sort of stress and pressure, they perform poorly and for some they start to derail and even fail in their role.

As someone who also assesses executives on their performance in their current role and their potential to elevate into the next role, the ability to be effective in a high-pressure stress event is a critical capability and something that can differentiate someone who is picked for elevation over someone who is passed over. Based on my experience, I have broken down the key differentiators of what good and bad looks like for someone experiencing a stress event.

What effective looks like:

  • The executive turns outward, engages people, and leverages the companies' resources, their team, and if appropriate external advisors.
  • The executive communicates across multiple channels. When they turn outward, their intensity of communication goes up as context goes down. They do their best to keep people informed and, in the loop, even if there is little change so that people are tracking with them on the journey. The key element here is dynamic context setting with those around them.
  • The executive is able to make decisions on the available information within their remit. The key here is that by the executive turning outward, engaging with those around them, and communicating high levels of context, this allows them to confidently step into decision making and continue to move things forward (not becoming frozen or so scared that they start to shoot from the hip).
  • The executive most importantly is able to absorb the stress and world around them. As a result, they do not ‘freak out or shut down’ allowing those around them to perform at their highest level because of their ‘can do’ approach to leadership. We have all experienced someone who amplifies and the toll that takes on individual and team performance in a stressful situation.

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, often speaks to his tips on stress relief while running one of the biggest businesses in the world (what he calls ”mental palate cleansers”)

(Andrew Burton/Getty)

What ineffective looks like:

  • The executive turns inward isolating themselves and often micromanaging aspects of the event taking things away from other team members. The focus on micromanagement is often on things they know and are comfortable with and sometimes these are not actually critical to solving or working successfully through the stress event.
  • The executive does not communicate effectively or share enough dynamic context in a timely manner creating asymmetries of information and additional stressors for many people on the team.
  • The executive may display two types of ineffective decision making. The first is the easiest to identify and that is they are simply frozen and do not make decisions. The second is harder to identify initially as they start to make decisions quickly which for many is a signal of being effective in the stress event. However, when the decisions are scrutinized, they are often erratic with low levels of judgment. The key is to examine all forms of decision making knowing that speed does not equal effectiveness.
  • Finally, the executive amplifies the entire situation making everyone worse around them rather than absorbing and providing a calming presence.

The goal as an executive is to have and continuously look for ways to add range to their leadership style throughout their career. One of the key elements of range is the recognition of how the the executive performs when under stress and pressure. By using the simple checklist above for what effective and ineffective looks like when handling pressure and stress, the executive can then self-diagnose their own effectiveness. This can even be turned into a team growth opportunity by adding collective range in stress and high-pressure situations, ensuring the entire team performs at a high level no matter what the scenario is.

By Stephen Miles, Contributor

© 2024 Forbes Media LLC. All Rights Reserved

This Forbes article was legally licensed through AdvisorStream.

Alex Chan,RHU,CHS,CFP,CPCA,EPC,CFSB,CLU profile photo

Alex Chan,RHU,CHS,CFP,CPCA,EPC,CFSB,CLU

Certified Financial Planner & Chartered Life Underwriter
Belvedere Financial Solutions Limited
Cell : 604.649.3829
Langley Office : 604.513.1177
Vancouver Office : 604.689.8289