A positive side to stress? Sounds strange, doesn’t it? But think about it. Isn’t some level of stress an important factor in meeting any goal? Don’t most people need that edge of energy that comes with working hard to meet challenges and overcome obstacles?
Stress can, under the right circumstances, be a gift. It can motivate us, and focus our efforts. The people who are most successful in life tend to be those that bounce back quickly from stress and adversity; they learn from their mistakes and move on, rather than feel victimized. However, when we experience too much of it, stress can also be detrimental to our health and to our overall success at work and at home.
The key is to find the right level of stress, and that’s where good leadership comes in. If they want to build their staff’s capability, good leaders don’t try to completely eliminate stress from a project, an assignment or the environment. Effective leaders understand that setting and achieving goals involves stress in some form, and that the stress involved in setting and reaching for goals often draws out the best of people’s talents.
Here are some guidelines that can help managers and coaches “get the best out of stress” for their teams. Remember, though, it’s about finding the right balance between energizing stress and stress that becomes counterproductive and potentially harmful.
1) Make sure you are able to recognize signs of stress and identify their causes.
• How do you typically learn what events, situations and conditions are creating stress for your employees?
• What factors in your department or work group tend to produce the most stress for people? Are these acknowledged and discussed openly?
2) Recognize that each person has a different capacity for dealing with stress — some are better at it than others.
• When coaching employees, are there specific behaviors or areas of skill development you can recommend for those that need to reduce their level of stress, such as improved time management, better planning, being more assertive, etc?
3) Help employees recognize that there are productive forms of stress.
• Do you ever hear stress discussed in positive terms? How can you help employees see that, in many cases, stressful situations and challenges aren’t altogether negative because they serve to make us stronger?
• What methods have you developed for managing your own stress? What past experiences have made you better able to survive new challenges? Have you shared these with your staff?
4) Attempt to raise the stress level up a notch, but only when and where it will be constructive.
• Can you think of situations in your work environment where a bit more pressure might be useful? What are they? What makes you think that raising the stress level just a notch might be useful?
• How can you assess whether or not your employees have sufficient resiliency to thrive on additional stress before adding more pressure to the situation?
When acknowledged and handled well — especially with the proper guidance and coaching — employees will see that stress can build resilience as well as confidence and the ability to deal with challenging circumstances.
Excerpted in part from the Leader’s Guide for the CRM Learning program, Stress is a Gift.
Need help in this area? Stress is a Gift uses a poignant example from nature to illustrate how stressors are essential to any living thing’s ability to survive and grow.