Leadership is a great responsibility – but with that responsibility comes something that we never really hear about in all of our education, training and preparation.
And it’s something that can be destructive and damaging to our performance as a leader, and to our overall health and well-being, unless it is managed and controlled.
That “something” is stress and anxiety.
When the buck stops with you, you enter a new world, where actions have grander consequences. That realization, once it hits, sends a surge of adrenaline through the body and flips a kind of internal switch that puts everything on “high alert”.
We don’t even realize this is happening, until we hit decision points where that internal surge comes closer to the surface, via the classic stomach “butterflies”, an increased pulse, quickening breaths, headaches, or all 4.
Or we start getting bouts of insomnia, our minds weighed down by the pressure of the job and fears of failure.
Before too long we’re popping aspirin, antacids and other pharmaceuticals to dampen the symptoms so we can just press on and keep working.
If these kind of reactions and behavior aren’t acknowledged, controlled and balanced, then it’s just a matter of time before bigger physical problems manifest themselves.
And, our leadership suffers. Our decision-making, temperament, and focus is hampered. It’s much harder to lead when you’re constantly tired and stressed out, worried about ulcers and heart attacks.
It’s taken me a long while to realize this myself, but here’s the thing: Stress and anxiety are massively destructive things.
I’ve taken note of that before over my 34-year business career, but only casually, through a some trips to the emergency room and to my doctors over the years to get EKG’s and other examinations, after which the physicians would tell me to “better manage my stress” and/or “cut back on the coffee”.
“OK, OK” I’d say (and think), and keep on going.
But recently, a few weeks ago, I got a more vivid proof of the destructive power of stress and anxiety – I had a full scale panic attack. I’d never experienced one quite like it, and it illustrated that while I had gotten the “acknowledgement” part years ago, I still had some work to do on the “controlling” and “balancing” parts.
So to anyone about to take the full leadership leap and take on the responsibilities that come with it, here’s the advice I wish I had gotten way earlier in my career (and the advice I got from my doctor after my panic attack):
Rest properly. Exercise regularly. Meditate. Stay away from processed foods. Take quiet walks in the woods. Don’t let computer and devices overwhelm you. Breathe. Smell the roses. Take regular vacations. Listen to music. Make sure your work is also fun. Make time to unwind and unplug.
Balance, balance, balance.
It will make you a healthier AND better leader in the long run.
Don’t let this destructive monster loose inside of you.
And lead well!