When you think of lavender, you immediately associate it with a soothing aroma, stress relief, and relaxation. It is a common natural remedy for insomnia, anxiety, migraines and nervous stomach, and it’s frequently used in the beauty and massage industry for its calming scent. In fact, The Complementary and Alternative Medicine Guide of the University of Maryland’s Medical Center stipulates that “research has confirmed lavender produces slightly calming, soothing, and sedative effects when its scent is inhaled.”
Having that in mind, today I’m going to give you the secret on how to achieve a successful leadership, but with that touch of lavender that will help you deal with the stress that comes with the territory, keeping you on a comfortable path to productivity. But first, let’s address the elephant in the room and talk a little about stress combined with the responsibilities of leadership.
Stress is almost unavoidable when it comes to leadership. Stress and anxiety can provide you with bursts of adrenaline that can motivate you to complete the tasks at hand, but in other cases, like Timothy Warneka, president of The Black Belt Consulting Group in Cleveland says “Like a car stuck in the mud and spinning its tires, excessive anxiety is wasted energy and project leaders don’t have that luxury.” The key factor of stress management is to know exactly when to use it to your advantage and when it’s time to find a way to deal with it and avoid the negative consequences that come with it. So, what can you do when all that stress and anxiety becomes a clear disadvantage?
Guided by the work of experts from the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) Vidula Bal, Michael Campbell, Joan Gurvis and Sharon McDowell-Larsen authors of the book Managing Leadership Stress, and complementing it with facts and opinions from various known sources on the matter, I will lay out 6 simple tips that all experts agree, can help you manage the stress of Leadership.
Tip # 1 Learn to pay attention to your body’s response to stress.
Spotting stress symptoms and the effects on your body may be kind of tricky, but the sooner you recognize them, the sooner you can take action and get that stress level down and back where it should be. According to an article from the Mayo Clinic, symptoms may be affecting you, even though you don’t realize it. So look out for effects on your body (headaches, fatigue, and muscle tension) mood (anxiety, lack of motivation, irritability, and depression) or behavior (angry outbursts, social withdrawal) that might give you a clue that you are currently under stress.
Tip # 2 Make it a habit to have a stress break.
Most of the time, your sense of responsibility can get you so caught up in work that you can lose track of time, which results in having to withstand all the pressure and stress that comes with everyday work nonstop, but a good leader must know when it’s time for a break. In fact, according to the CCL, “More than 90 percent of leaders cite that they manage stress by temporarily removing themselves, either physically or mentally, from the source of their stress.”
What exactly is a stress break? It can be as simple as getting up from your desk and having a stretch, taking a short walk around the office or going out for some fresh air, to more complex methods like closing your eyes and performing relaxation or breathing exercises. The most important thing is that you find a method, physical or mental, that can remove you when stress gets out of hand and turn it into your habit, that special strategy you can rely on to get you through.
Tip # 3 Get away, leave work in the workplace.
Sometimes it can be an enormous task leaving your work in the workplace, whether it’s taking an unfinished task or just simply bringing all that bottled up stress and tiredness home, but when we bring all those factors to our home life, we only contribute to that stress bubble and it will eventually burst.
That is why the CCL recommends us finding “effective ways to set boundaries between work and home life. Whatever works for you (listening to music on the commute home, turning off the cell phone and email during personal or family time, participating in a social activity or hobby) make time for it and keep your commitment to having a life outside of work.”
They also add, that “Most leaders use a variety of sensory or physical activities to manage stress: exercise, outdoor hobbies, music, games, television, etc”.
Tip # 4 Focus on fitness.
When it comes to the most efficient ways to manage stress, the experts at the CCL affirm that “Physical exercise is the most commonly cited method leaders use to manage stress.” This method owes it popularity to its direct stress relieving benefits. Just to name a few, the Mayo Clinic states that exercise fills you up with “feel-good neurotransmitters called endorphins”, serves as meditation by making you forget your worries while you concentrate on your body’s movements and improves your mood by relaxing you.
To add a little more to the subject, in John R. Ryan’s article for Bloomberg.com, titled “Six Ways to Manage Leadership Stress”, he writes about the results of research about stress management and leadership, conducted by the CCL and says “In working with executives from around the world, we’ve found those who exercise regularly are rated significantly higher on leadership effectiveness by their bosses, peers, and direct reports than men and women who exercised only sporadically or not at all”.
Tip # 5 Planning, organizing and prioritizing.
In the words of the CCL experts: “Stress caused by job responsibilities and decision making is often managed by finding ways to gain focus and perspective on the challenge: planning, project management, clarification.”
This tip might seem a bit obvious to most leaders, but sometimes we must remember to stick with the basics to stay clear of unnecessary stress. When it comes to task related stress, the best strategy is to simply to plan, organize and prioritize. Start with a schedule, remember to define roles, controlling only what you can and should control, by delegating what you can to fellow project or team members. Set achievable due dates and always clarify your expectations. Having a clear focus on the goal and how to achieve it, is an effective approach to reducing stress.
Other experts, like Susan Kousek, a Certified Professional Organizer (CPO), go as far as to say that “For many people, it’s difficult to focus when their desk is filled with papers, phone messages, business cards, magazines and newsletters, especially when the layers are inches high”. So we can assume that keeping your workplace clean and organized is as equally important as organizing your tasks when it comes to reducing stress.
Tip # 6 Take time to recover.
“Practicing the art of recovery helps you accomplish more in less time”, John R. Ryan says. He adds that “Professional athletes know that pushing themselves at 100% all of the time does not yield gains in performance over the long term. It just burns them out.”
The CCL adds, that “Building in enough time to relax and recharge is critical for clear and creative thinking, strong relationships and good health. Make sure that throughout the day you are allowing yourself real and frequent breaks – at least a 10-minute break every 90 minutes. And leave the job behind. Time and energy spent off-the-job can enhance your productivity and your capacity to deal with work challenges.”
To conclude, citing James L. Haner on his article “Seven Tips for Stress-Free Project Leadership” written for Learning tree international blog, “Learning to manage your anxiety effectively isn’t just a matter of flipping a switch; it takes attention and dedication to learning to master your mind.” But by working every day on these valuable tips, used by the most effective leaders in business, you take a step towards maintaining the right amount of stress and sooner than later your leadership will improve.