How to Effectively Lead When Dealing with Personal Stress

September 3, 2022


There are times when stress is significant enough to interfere with a person’s ability to lead. When a leader tries to push through stressful times, sometimes it works, but sometimes it can lead to a lapse in judgment or other problems.

Just like everyone else, leaders in top positions of organizations are human beings that experience personal stress on top of the stress that comes along with anyone in a position of leadership.

There are stressors that can negatively impact one’s ability to lead.

We are accustomed to handling everyday stresses such as spilled coffee or traffic jams. However, leaders are sometimes required to handle major events, and they are expected to do so with dignity and grace. For instance, the death of a member of the organization not only affects the organization emotionally but also practically. When someone who was loved, particularly if they had a long career, leaves, who would fill those shoes?

It is stressful for a leader, whether personally or within the family, when they face a serious illness, as they must decide how much to share with colleagues and how to continue their work duties. On the other hand, when a leader welcomes a new baby into their family, the emotional changes are often accompanied by the practical planning needed to accomplish work.

Leadership is not about perfection, and it is important that leaders understand their honesty and transparency are appreciated by their colleagues. During times of major life events, most people understand, want to help, and do not expect perfection.

Standard stress-reduction techniques should be known and practiced.

You will face days as a leader when you are dealing with everything minute by minute. You need practical techniques for stress reduction at these times to stay on track. Some widely used techniques include:

  • Mindfulness is the practice of focusing on the present moment and accepting it without judgment. Stress tends to cause us to reflect on the past or to worry about the future, whereas mindfulness is a way to bring us back to the present moment.
  • Reframing enables you to achieve three important goals, among which are describing your situation accurately and without cognitive distortions, assessing your coping capacity, and searching for a “redemptive” narrative where hard times ultimately lead to positive changes in your life.
  • Disconnecting temporarily – you do this by getting up from your workstation, avoiding social media, and spending just a few minutes in a different mental space. Try taking a walk, playing a game, watching a funny video, or simply breathing consciously for a few minutes.
  • Do not multitask, as it is usually less effective than tackling one issue at a time. Under stress, you are more likely to make errors when you try to multitask, which means that you will have to correct them later on.

Boundaries are essential

You must be able to separate your life at work from your life at home. In some cases, the work-life may spill over into personal life, and vice versa. However, for the most part, there should be clear boundaries between the two. If you separate the two, you will be able to devote sufficient time and attention to each. There is no right or wrong way to determine those boundaries. It is not uncommon for people to have a favorite playlist to listen to on the way home, as well as a specific coffee shop that they stop at on their way to work. It is possible to mentally mark the transition between the personal and professional spheres in an infinite number of ways.

Leadership coaching does not take the place of therapy and other types of professional support needed when people are experiencing a life crisis. However, leadership coaching can enable people to identify inadvertent ways in which they limit their potential as a result of self-sabotage. As a leader, you call on the skills you learn from a leadership coach that are both useful in good times as well as in tough times, such as effective communication, delegation, conflict resolution, and time management.

Even the most exalted leaders cannot expect perfect performance 100% of the time. Leading in the face of personal stress puts you on “hard mode,” but the skills you develop from leadership programs, from your own experiences, and from leadership coaching prepare you well for facing those headwinds and moving toward calmer times.

To learn more on how to continue to be an effective leader in times of stress or when facing other obstacles, please contact IL Movement today.

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