Managing stress at the top

Dec 13 2012 by Carole Spiers Print This Article

"No one forced you to accept the job of a CEO!" complains the wife of the senior executive of a multi-national pharmaceutical company. "You are never home on time and your mind always seems to be somewhere else!"

Why does someone choose to take on the full responsibility of running a company? Is it solely for financial reward, the status and the challenge? Or maybe they are just 'adrenaline junkies' only coming to life when their hormones are kick-started.

Whatever their individual reasons, they have taken on a demanding, company executive role and, as such, are responsible to their shareholders, their management teams and their employees.

CEO Challenges
CEOs often have to manage the market volatility when dealing with an economic downturn and/or a financial crisis and their role in such circumstances is to consolidate growth and to effectively manage the company - often with declining resources and increasing demands.

The chances are that senior executives are working at a frenetic pace during which they often have to face threats and opportunities at the same time, making it difficult, at times, to keep a firm grip on circumstances as they arise.

For some CEOs, the pain of downsizing is still ongoing. We may think that they can detach themselves from the reality of personal loss and pain when deciding who to 'let go' but it is still a tough call.

The day in the life of a typical CEO can be extremely demanding, and finding time and space for themselves is often difficult. They may spend the day going from one meeting to another with hardly enough time even for the washroom. They are 'on stage' all day with high expectations from everyone around them. Their mobile phone and email means that they are contactable 24/7 so that 'switching off' is not an option, even outside office hours.

A CEO needs to be all things to all people and no-one is really interested in the fact that they are 'having a bad day'. Being a CEO means appearing positive and totally committed 24/7.

And so I hear you say, why on earth would one want to be a CEO? Is it just the buzz, the position of power and influence or perhaps a belief in what they are doing and a passion in wanting to make a difference.

Whatever it is, and it is different for everyone, a CEO needs to know what motivates their team so that team members are not stressed and consequently working unproductively. This knowledge can very often help them to better manage their own stress levels.

Being a CEO means that prolonged pressure is often endemic, dependent often of the position of the company or organisation within the specific field of industry or government, which means that personal stress needs to be managed.

Of course, some CEOs are more resilient than others as they may have learnt this resilience from their childhood or from a life experience. However, many others have not and it can be a steep learning curve to acquire the necessary skills with which to protect oneself.

Very often, a CEO may not immediately identify the source of their stress but just recognise that they are experiencing it and that they have become a passenger in the car instead of driving it! This can also lead to a 'knock-on' effect on their domestic relationships whether it be with their spouses, partners, children or friends.

Warning Signs
Frequently, a busy executive may see the signs but will not heed the warnings. 'It will go away' they say to themselves as they search for a reason why they do not sleep at night, or if they experience stomach pains, indigestion, lack of concentration and being constantly irritable. Other people might bring these to their attention, but they will probably convince themselves that they are OK, the problem is with everyone else!

So for a busy CEO, pressure is constant and often an occupational hazard but they have to learn how to thrive on daily pressure and to avoid it turning into stress and, ultimately, burnout. Yes! CEOs can also suffer burnout they're not exempt!

My Top Stress-Busting Tips
1. Be visible! Walk the talk with your iPad or pen and note any concerns, feedback and ideas. A suggestion from a team leader might be exactly what you need in order to obviate a stressful situation. And the added bonus is that that team leader will have a greater sense of personal worth for being asked and taken seriously.

2. Peer group support: The role of the CEO can be isolating so that discussions with other CEOs can help you gain a greater perspective of your own work and possibly obtain other ideas that may help you cope more effectively.

3. Listen to what others are saying about you: It is very easy to go into defensive mode but take heed when someone who you respect recognises a change in your behaviour, and conveys that to you, or to others.

4. Keep a clear focus: Multi-tasking is great but you are probably more productive when you tackle one job at a time.

5. Make time for yourself: Make sure your PA doesn't book in back-to-back appointments and also ensure that your name appears in your own diary, EVERY DAY!

6. Draw a line: Learn how to recognise situations that are outside of your control and know when to move on. When you're stuck in a traffic tailback, fuming at the loss of time and inconvenience will not gain you anything, other than possibly an ulcer!

7. Relieve stress by exercising: work-out daily for at least 30 minutes and maybe even get fit enough to run a half marathon. Get others to join you and raise money for charity.

8. Don't stay late: As a CEO, everyone is looking to you as their role model, so make sure that you are setting the right example.

9. Planning: This is never easy in a fast-moving marketplace so always have a plan 'B' up your sleeve and try and avoid surprises and the inherent stress that goes with them.

10. Be positive: Be aware that everyone is looking to you to motivate and inspire so keep positive people around you. Look for the best in people and avoid 'glass half-empty' types. They will usually drain you and certainly will not bring any positive energy to the table.

11. Time Management: Stress often comes from overlapping time-priorities and you will not be as creative and inspirational when your time is not managed effectively. Try working in 2-hour blocks at a time, with short but definitive intervals in between and see how much more productive you become.

12. Learn how to switch off: This is a skill and has to be learnt. You can meditate, cycle, learn yoga or paint - whatever works for you just do it!

Remaining disciplined by managing both time and productivity well, is the key to good stress management. A stress-free CEO is one who has taken control of their life. They compartmentalise their home and work lives, exercise daily, take regular holidays to unwind and to recharge their internal batteries.

The only question is: are you one of them?


About The Author

Carole Spiers
Carole Spiers

Carole Spiers is CEO of a leading UK stress management consultancy and an international motivational speaker She is also the author of a new book Show Stress Who's Boss!

Older Comments

@:Stress often comes from overlapping time-priorities and you will not be as creative and inspirational when your time is not managed effectively. May be it would help if people realized that time can NOT be managed, we all have the same time every day. Only activities can be managed and in order to do this it helps to have clear priorities. If you put more activities into the same time, you have to work faster which will cause stress if it exceeds your capacity or 'natural speed point'. Another cause for stress is inappropriate 'meaning' we give to what happens on a daily basis, often based on unconscious beliefs, thus causing 'stress and pressure' where ideally there would be only 'productive activity'.


I appreciate the ideas provided in the article. But, I feel the more of the contents relate to planning of daily chores of a CEO, rather than stress control. Further, these points of suggestions apply even to the leaders/ managers of the middle and lower levels also, but the end of the article with qualification, 'The only question is: are you one of them?' points out as if these points are exclusively applicable only to the top level CEOs.

Anyway, on the whole, suggestions are quite informative to all those, who have to face stress during official life.

PS Dhingra Delhi

CEO Have to be someone who is friendly and can easily forgive and forget.

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