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Resilience and stress

Is too much resilience bad?

Resilience is good, right? But is too much bad?

I was asked this when running a resilience training workshop for 30 Local Councillors. They were newly-elected and from three different political parties.

We were looking at how personal strengths influence resilience. I was blown away that 40% of them had Bravery in their top five strengths profile. Bravery is defined as speaking up for what is right and acting on one’s convictions, even if it’s unpopular. Usually it’s only about 15%.

Bravery is a wonderful strength. We need bravery to resist social or peer pressure to conform, to speak up and to keep on doing “the right thing”. You need a lot of that to be a whistle-blower and be resilient.

The Local Councillors told me they need bravery for … how did they put it? Oh yes, “robust” and “full and frank exchange of views” with each other.

Strengths can become weaknesses however, if they are used inappropriately. When bravery is used at an inappropriate time or used too much, it becomes overconfidence and foolishness. People stop listening. They ignore you. You end up being disrespected and labelled a troublemaker.

That’s when one of the delegates asked: “Is too much resilience bad? She explained that a senior leader boasted: “I don’t have stress. I give stress. I am stress carrier.”

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How to lead when people are in pain

pexels-photo-87584There is always pain in organisations. Some of it comes from organisational issues, such as leaders pushing boundaries and driving their teams hard or overwork or job insecurity.

Other sources of pain come from outside of the organisation and when people bring their emotions to work. This pain can come from personal issues (e.g. relationships; finances; health) or external social and physical issues (e.g. social disruption; violence; natural disasters).

Whether it has origins inside or outside the organisation, in any group of people at work, you can expect that there is at least one person in pain. Continue reading

Beat the Dark Side of Greatness: How to excel at work without losing your soul

id-10081666Achieving greatness at work

You work hard for success, recognition and greatness at work. You love the rush of firing on all cylinders, and being engaged and committed to your work. You naturally receive rewards and recognition …… which drives you to work even harder.

 The dark side of greatness

But ask yourself:

  • Does your success at work come with a heavy price in other areas of your life?
  • Are your powerful strengths also responsible for your worst failures?
  • Do you struggle to meet both work and home commitments?
  • Do you have little energy for life outside of work?

There is a dark side when the greatness achieved in one area of life comes at a significant cost in another. It may happen to high-flying executives who are so dedicated to their work that they become helicopter parents, disconnected from their children.  Or to a highly respected doctor who becomes emotionally distant in order to cope with suffering seen daily. Continue reading

Performing under pressure when it counts the most

Highly successful people are able to perform under pressure when it matters the most. Even when there are high stakes outcomes, they are able to stay focused and achieve their objectives.

In contrast, for most of us asking for a salary increase, dealing with a workplace bully or coordinating multiple projects are very difficult situations. The higher the stakes, the greater the pressure and that’s when our brains turn into porridge.

Fortunately we can learn from highly successful people who cope well with pressure. Build your resilience to improve performance under pressure by doing the following: Continue reading

Is your home more stressful than work?

Work is stressful, but home is less stressful, right? That’s what many of us say, but not necessarily what actually happens.

According to a new study from Penn State University, both men and women have significantly less stress at work rather than at home, and this difference is even more pronounced for women than men. In addition, they found that the women in their study were happier at work than at home, whilst in contrast, men felt happier at home than at work.

Whaaaaat? How can that be? Continue reading

How to stop work stress

heavy-934552_1280We all suffer from too much work stress, right? The stress never ends, a bit like Sisyphus in Greek mythology, doomed for eternity to push our heavy boulder up a hill, only for it to roll back down again.

Fortunately there are actions you can take to reduce work stress. It starts by separating the distressing stress reaction from the problem that created the stress in the first place.

If they not teased apart, and solved separately, it’s almost impossible to get off the Sisyphus tread mill. Continue reading

How to cope with a stress attack

Angry man cartoonHave you had a stress attack recently? It’s when you are swept up with anger or fear, your heart pounds, you sweat, shape or tremble and may have difficulty breathing.

When you experience a stress attack like this, you will almost always react to it. Some people direct their stress reaction outwards towards others. I’m sure you’ve seen it when they raise their voice, interrupt and make demands or threats. Of course the people around them don’t appreciate this outer-directed stress reaction, which feels like being bullied.

There is also another type of stress reaction which s very different and is inter-directed. This happens when the person has difficulty expressing their intense emotion; they bottle it up and often feel its best to withdraw. They may even weep with frustration, which incidentally shouldn’t be seen as a sign of weakness. This inner-directed stress reaction also has negative consequences, as it may result in eroding the person’s self-esteem if they feel unable to stand up for themselves.

Common to both outer- and inner-directed stress reactions, is that they inevitably don’t have good outcomes either for the individual or the people around them.

If you recognise yourself in either of these unhelpful stress reactions, there are several actions you can take to cope better: Continue reading

Your stress is not my stress – why stress is experienced differently

ID-10065994No one welcomes the feeling of being stressed. We prize performance, competition and perfection and if we don’t feel competent it causes stress.

So is stress bad? The answer is yes and no. Without some level of stress, life is positively boring, but on the other hand too much stress is debilitating. Thus there should be an optimum level of stress for motivation and engagement for every one.

It turns out that this is true, but what is experienced by one person as motivating and exciting, may be experienced by someone else as overload resulting in anxiety and reduced efficiency. Continue reading

Five strategies to build your resilience in a stressful job

Resilience orbTo survive in our rapidly changing economic environment, many organisations are making large-scale changes which ratchets up pressure on everyone. More output is required from people using fewer resources. Many people are working longer hours and complain that work is more stressful than ever before.

If this applies to you, you need to be resilient. Resilience is the ability to stay task focused and productive during difficult times, to recover well from sustained pressure and adversity. It also enables learning for the experience to become personally better rather than bitter; stronger rather than weaker.

While this might sound like magic, it is in fact ordinary magic that everyone possesses. The good news is that it’s made up of a set of skills and behaviours that can be learnt and improved.

In our research on personal resilience (more here), we found seven elements that make up resilience, as shown in the model. From these elements, there are five practical strategies that can immediately assist to build your internal coping resources to become more resilient. Continue reading

How to ask for help and enhance your reputation as a leader

ID-10046852Successful leaders get things done. They think big, drive for results, take risks and deliver on their plans. They also do something that is less known, and that is they ask for help. When facing difficulties, they ask for help in a way that builds cooperation and respect.

Some leaders don’t feel comfortable asking for help, when self-sufficiency is prized in our western work. They fear asking for help may be seen as a sign of weakness or that they are not competent. Yet, the same leaders often struggle with an increased work load and lament the lack of cooperation in their organisation.

If leaders are reluctant to seek help themselves, it sends a signal to their team members that admitting vulnerability and not coping is unacceptable in the organisation. If this happens, feelings of isolation and alienation will increase with the rise of organisational uncertainty.

It’s only when leaders model that seeking help is not only acceptable but is actually desirable, that the team and ultimately the organisation will be able to proactively get the resources they need to support themselves and to transition the organisation through difficulties.

This was also borne out in my research on personal resilience (more here), which found that asking for help and also giving help was one of the seven components of resilience.

So how can you overcome an inherent reluctance to ask for help, and to ask for help in a way that enhances your reputation as a leader, rather than diminishes it? Here are some ideas: Continue reading

Five deadly myths about stress

Stress JPEGMyth 1.   Stress is bad for you

Too much stress is certainly bad for you. Stress is what happens when the demands on you exceed your resources to deal with them. You feel overwhelmed, overly anxious, uncertain and upset. Being overstressed like this reduces your ability to perform at your peak and be the loving person you wish to be at home.

Too much stress isn’t only emotionally debilitating, it’s also bad for your health. Prolonged overstress can weaken your immune system and cause high blood pressure, fatigue, depression and heart disease.

But here’s the thing. Not all stress is bad for you. In fact, you need some level of stress. A minimal level of stress is needed to deal with challenge and makes you feel excited and engaged. For example, a minimum level of stress before an important examination motivates you to work hard and achieve your goals. Continue reading

How couples can prevent work stress from damaging their relationship

ID-10040681In my resilience workshops (more here), it’s common for about 75% of the people to say that work demands interfere with family or home responsibilities, and about 65% say that family or home responsibilities interfere with their work.

They say that they start work earlier and finish later to cope with increased work load. When they get home, they are often still stressed, finding it difficult to relax and engage with the family. In turn, they take their guilt of not being the loving partner or parent they would like to be, back to their work place.

Stress is contagious, and like a ping-pong ball, bounces back and forth between partners ratcheting up the tension. Stressed couples quarrel and fight, withdraw, feel disconnected which in turn leads to bigger problems. Unchecked, long-term stress can result in feelings of isolation and being trapped in an unloved relationship.

Fortunately the vicious cycle of work-home stress can become a virtuous cycle when loving partners help each other to cope. Your loving partner is almost always the person on whom you rely for support, and when their support is effective, it deepens your relationship. Here are seven ways loving partners can prevent the stress of work damaging their home life and deepen their relationship: Continue reading

Leading when things don’t make sense

ID-10097140At times in everyone’s lives, things happen that just don’t make sense. Life isn’t fair – at work and at home.

When bad things happen to you or someone close to you, it’s a double whammy. You have to deal with the event and it’s aftermath, but what often makes it even worse is that sometimes it triggers questions that just don’t have a satisfactory answer.

At work for example, when the company merges with its bitterest competitor or when seemingly lucrative business lines are shut down or when highly valued people are replaced.

We have a need to make sense of life

As humans, we have a need to make sense of life events, and so when our old beliefs and explanations don’t work anymore, we feel frightened and out of control. The fear invokes our primitive “flight or fight” response, our thinking becomes inflexible and any creative problem-solving ability flies out the window.

When there is uncertainty and confusion in organisations, the role of the leader in providing direction and structure comes to the fore. Skilled leaders can prevent or at least mitigate this type of unhelpful reaction. The leader needs to make sense of what has happened for him/herself and at the same time help their teams that are struggling. This leadership role is called “sense making” and is a vital component of resilience leadership.

As a leader, there are five steps that will help your sense making when things don’t seem to make sense: Continue reading

How to Lead with Courage and Resilience

ID-10081666Nine months after her first leadership appointment as Call Centre Manager with 35 team members, Jan was told that her area was to be phased out. This meant that she and her team members would be retrenched if they could not find alternate jobs in the organisation. Due to a head-count freeze, this was unlikely to happen.

She was also asked to maintain “business as usual” until the final closing down of the unit which would take several months.

She had to deal on a personal basis with her own anger and fear about what had happened. At the same time, she had to sustain the resilience of her team members, if she was going to have any hope of keeping the unit task-focused and productive to the very last day.

Ordinary people like Jan are called upon to be extra-ordinary leaders in really difficult times. It’s then that courage plays a central part in resilient leadership.

Continue reading

How to build a resilient team

Some years back, I managed sales and administration teams. Some teams consistently exceeded targets whilst others consistently under performed. The under-performing teams inevitably blamed market conditions and other environmental factors for their lack-luster performance.

Yet some of the top performing teams faced even worse obstacles and still managed to excel.

So what could explain the difference?

I eventually concluded that the difference in team performance arose as a result of how the teams reacted to their difficulties.

Top performing teams viewed their difficulties as challenges that could be overcome. They believed their work was meaningful. They assisted and helped each other. Their leaders were visible and involved with their teams. As a result, the top performing teams coped much better with unrelenting pressure, change and uncertainty.

Put simply, the difference was in the teams’ resilience. Continue reading

Help! I’m tired of being tired!

ID-100157605 (2)People tell me that they feel more over-stressed and overwhelmed than ever before. They have so much on their plates that they can’t find the time to do everything, let alone take time out to recover and refresh themselves.

They say that their usual solutions don’t work. They can’t find time to meditate, or exercise and even sleep properly. Life-work balance is a joke. No matter how hard they try, they seem to be achieving less and feel exhausted by demands at work and home.

Like them, are you also tired of being tired? If so, here are seven actions you can take right now to break out of this distressing cycle: Continue reading

How to win every argument with your boss

ID-100126378 (1)Do you argue with your boss? If so, Sipho’s argument with her boss may sound familiar.

It started when he told her senior management wanted a new procedure implemented in her work area. When she examined the implementation plans however, she was taken aback. There were many potential pitfalls, and if they didn’t work out, she would end up being blamed.

Sipho immediately went to her boss: “These plans are crazy and will never work!”

“Yes they will,” he responded.

“They won’t, and I want to change them,” Sipho shot back.

“No, stop overreacting and just follow instructions”, he said heatedly, and turned away to answer an incoming phone call.

Sipho left steaming. Why didn’t he just listen to her? Typical! The more she thought about his reaction, the angrier she became. Continue reading

How to develop resilience – strength for life

DrowningWe all experience difficulties in life, but sometimes it goes from “In every life, some rain must fall” (YouTube link here), to a flood. It can be caused by an unrelenting volume or pace of work. Or it can be caused by something deeply upsetting such as being retrenched or ending of a love-relationship.

When difficulties reach flood levels, some people are stretched beyond their limits. They don’t cope well. They feel defeated and sometimes spiral into hopelessness. Its’s as though they are drowning in a flood of difficulty and hardship.

In contrast, others cope and recover well. They manage to keep their experience of stress positive and struggle well. They are like a buoy in an ocean storm, submerged from time-to-time, but quickly bob up again. Continue reading

How to develop the ability to struggle well

stormy weatherAre you over-stressed? I often hear people despairing that they are over-committed and over-stressed at work, and don’t know how to get off the treadmill. Work-life balance becomes unreachable, and they feel increasingly unable to be the loving parent or partner they would like to be.

This sentiment is echoed by M Scott Peck whose opening sentence in The Road Less Travelled is: “Life is difficult”. Even the Buddha teaches that the first of the “Four Noble Truths” is “Life is suffering”.

This is a rather bleak commentary on life, so let’s put it into perspective.

It’s true that we all experience some degree of difficulty, heartache, disappointment and even adversity. The practical implication for me is: can I minimise the suffering in a way that doesn’t also diminish experiencing the positive side of life?

Put differently, is it possible to cope well with what life throws at me and also to experience love, joy and happiness? Continue reading

How sports coaches up the performance of struggling teams

3135102614_748ba182ed_mRight now the world’s eyes are on international rugby, football, cricket and other sporting competitions.  Each match is “to do or die” for the players, with money, prestige and national pride riding on the outcome.

What do successful coaches say to their teams when they’re losing and are often frustrated and demoralized?

Is threatening the most effective strategy? In other words, motivate them by kicking their butts. Or is it more effective to find something that they are doing to praise? In other words, motivate them by making them feel good about themselves? Continue reading