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Release Your Own Stress to Lead More Calmly: How to Lead & Succeed in Business

Date: April 18, 2011

by Alexander Hiam

Pity the leaders in any organization. They are ultimately responsible for anything that goes wrong. They are the ones who have to worry about what to do next or resolve conflicts and problems within their organization. Leadership is, let's face it, a highly stressful endeavor.

Yet good leadership requires calmness and an ability to rise above the daily stresses and stay cool and collected. Great leaders are still smiling when all hell breaks loose, and their ability to avoid stress inoculates their entire organization against this enemy from within. So how can leaders (like you) be less affected by stress and lead your people by example? How can you feel more calm and collected than those around you so that you can provide emotional leadership and keep everyone positive and productive, even in the face of chaos and confusion?

Well, one thing's for sure. It won't happen just because you want it to. Some people are naturally more calm than others, but everyone responds to stressful events in basically the same way: they get stressed! So to get rid of your own stress (and lead the way to eliminating it in others), you need to adopt some practices that zap stress and keep it from taking control of you. Here are some simple things you can do while you work.

  • Tense up your fists for a few seconds, then gradually relax them to let the stress flow out of your muscles. If it feels good but doesn't completely eliminate your tension, try this tense-then-release pattern in other muscles (your arms, neck and shoulders, feet, buttocks, stomach, etc.). Breathe deeply to enhance the effect of this exercise.
  • Take a humor break. Keep a book of jokes or cartoons at hand and stop for a minute to look through it when you need to release the tension. As soon as you find yourself laughing naturally over a good joke, you will discover you've defused the tension and can go back to work with a new, healthier feeling.
  • Make a "minichange" to improve your workplace or working life. According to Robert Epstein, author of The Big Book of Stress Relief Games, "Small changes have BIG outcomes," at least when you make them yourself and they eliminate any of those all-too-common sources of minor irritation. For instance, the telephone on my desk rings so loudly that it startles me and interrupts my chain of thought. After ten interruptions, I'm getting irritable and stressed without even realizing it. Could I make a minichange that eliminates this problem? Sure – now that I'm thinking about it. In fact, l just turned the ringer down to low after writing that sentence. Funny I hadn't ever examined the phone carefully enough to notice there was a control on it before!
  • Breathe deeply and calmly ten times. Yes, ten whole times; don't cheat and stop early. If you doubt the power of this technique, do it right away before reading another sentence. There, see what I mean? (By the way, have you ever wondered why cigarette breaks are relaxing? It's largely because smoking a cigarette forces the smoker to take a series of slow, deep breaths. I'm not suggesting smoking, but why not take a breathing break? Step outside the nearest door and breathe deeply ten times. You'll feel better, guaranteed.)
  • Make a list of things that make you feel good at work. Keep it at hand (i.e. post it inside the top drawer of your desk) for quick reference when you need it. Next time you start feeling stressed or irritable, check the list and make yourself pick an activity from it to do right away. For instance, my list includes "call my kids" and "walk around the block" and "make a cup of tea."

Alexander Hiam is an Instructor in the Bachelor's Degree with Independent Concentration program at U Mass Amherst. His latest book is called Business Innovation for Dummies.

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