Stress affects each of us in different ways. At low levels, stress is healthy. It provides a boost of adrenaline and focus that heightens clarity and helps us be more productive. Too much stress? Well, that usually brings out the dark side in us. And yes, all of us have that ugly monster inside that we’d rather pretend doesn’t exist. But we both know that our stress-monster is indeed alive and well, and likes to come out to play when we’re on overload.
I was reminded of my lovely little stress-monster during a recent business trip. In my desire to be as productive as possible, I crammed in a thousand things to finish before leaving for the airport, leaving my packing till the last minute. I also had another brilliant idea – why not also cram in a few extra appointments in between already scheduled meetings? My sole intent – jam in as much as possible. After all, isn’t that the yardstick of productivity?
When I arrived at my hotel, I realised that I had forgotten to pack some essential toiletries. No doubt a relatively minor inconvenience but one that took an already stressful day up another notch. My enthusiasm to cram in as much as possible also caused me to be irritable and short tempered the next day after running from one appointment to another. And that short fuse carried through to when I arrived home after a long day of meetings and flight delays, which was probably not the best way to return home to family whom you’ve not seen in a few days.
That little ‘episode’ reminded me of similar situations during my past corporate life where days were frequently marked by back-to-back meetings. Suffice to say, there were times when I was not at my best and it affected my leadership effectiveness.
Self awareness is the first step towards growth and improvement. A critical element of leadership self awareness is knowing what triggers or heightens your unproductive stress response. The next step is deciding what you can control to proactively reduce or work around these triggers.
In my case, I’m reminded that I don’t function well when I overbook myself. Just because others can zip from one thing to the next the entire day, and stay energised throughout, that’s not me. And that’s ok. I need time in between appointments to recharge and regroup. This allows me to be more present, listen better and think clearer. And when the day is done, I’m also more present and calmer for my family. So it’s a win-win all around.
Sometimes, in our desire to be better, do better, we benchmark ourselves against others. In other words, we role model others whom we respect and admire. Role modelling is great so long as you’re not mimicking blindly. Focus on the desired outcome and have the conviction to get there in your own way.
Leading with congruence is about delivering results while honouring who you are at the core. It’s about bringing out the best in yourself, while doing what’s necessary to keep our stress-monster at bay.
Oh, and note to self – I must make a list of ‘things to pack for travel’ before my next trip!