Lately I have been feeling aggravated about a few things at work. There are a number of programs and projects that are not coming along as quickly as I had envisioned. Someone unwittingly told me that I should not stress out about it. Frankly, I had a hard time with that depiction of my aggravation. I see stress in others, but I only feel my sense of aggravation [and anger] in my own “stressful” situations. Now, I will readily admit that I am often seen as a stress carrier [I may be a walking typhoon of stress for some people], but I am seldom, if ever, afflicted. So, I thought I would look into stress a little deeper this morning. I came across two insightful depictions of stress amongst a cottage industry of opinions.
1. Stress, when driven from outside the individual, can be motivational. It has the potential to be a positive, driving force especially when it comes from someone perceived to be a trusted supporter or mentor or manager. It is often perceived as good advice and it often helps generate “considered alternatives and choices” that are different from the ones currently in practice. – Performance Management Company Blog
2. People often say that stress is a motivator. What we’re referring to when we say this is really better described as stimulation and engagement. Take the example of goal-setting. We set goals because they give us something to aim for and keep us feeling engaged. Stimulation and engagement are good.
But that’s not stress. Stress is the negative whirlwind of emotions that gets imposed on top of our stimulation and engagement. It leads to poorer decision-making, reduced creativity, mental exhaustion, and physical burnout (and eventually to disease). In other words, stress motivates us in a number of harmful ways. Without the stress, we have more energy to get things done and more fun doing it. We need stimulation and engagement. We all enjoy pushing ourselves to accomplish our objectives. But we don’t need stress to get there.
Stress is not inevitable. Look for something you’re not bothered by that other people are (a fear of heights, driving fast, flying). People who experience stress in those situations may say that it’s inevitable because they can’t imagine not feeling stress, but you know that this isn’t so. Their emotions come from their beliefs. The same is true for whatever you’re stressed out about now (money, health, work, etc.). It’s entirely possible to think differently and not experience stress in your life, as unlikely as that sounds. It just requires a different approach. If you’re successful and stressed out, you’re succeeding in spite of your stress, not because of it. – by Andrew Bernstein in The Myth of Stress
I can’t help but agree that stress is something we allow to happen to us. What you or I think is stressful [or aggravating] may indeed be stimulating to someone else. Stress is internal.
At the Advantage, I have been known to utilize a dramatic tirade from time to time to create an environment where people are motivated to give a 100% effort toward the desired result. There is no denying that this is effective. But, is it stressful? Well, it would be hard to argue that it isn’t stressful to some, but, to others, it is a tonic [or, at the very least, a focal point].
I’m not deluded, and I am not out to justify my particular leadership style. I’m just looking at stress as clearly as possible. As I look at successful coaches [like the Vince Lombardi type] or successful business sociopaths [like the Steve Jobs type], they make me look like a teddy bear.
So, today’s question is, do I need to ratchet it up a bit, or do we need a kinder, gentler Tony?
I’m only kidding. I’m too old to ratchet it up, and it takes a big toll on me – a toll I am no longer willing to pay. No, what today’s question is: How do we create an environment where we eliminate stress knowing full well that everything that happens in business has the potential to stress someone out?
I have been around countless people who are stressed by too much opportunity, too much success [that’s what they are saying is stressing out Rory McIlroy these days], too much responsibility, too much independence, too much control, etc. For some, making a simple decision is stressful. Stress is a very individual feeling. It is, like beauty and pornography, in the eye of the beholder.
So, how do we eliminate stress? Concern would help, as would genuine support. But what we really need is confidence. The more confident you are about yourself, your career, your health, your friends and family, your significant other, your finances, and your ability to actually reach your goals – the less stress you will feel when you are in what is, to you, a stressful situation.
I believe that the Maslow Need Hierarchy is relevant when it comes to stress. Our unfulfilled needs are potential stress points. Confidence comes from not only satisfying our needs, but in the knowledge that we have the potential and resources to satisfy our unfulfilled needs. Stress, I believe, comes from a feeling of inadequacy. But I’ll leave that for another posting.
In the meantime, as Henry Ford [that famous anti-semitic sociopath] once said: Whether you think you can, or whether you think you can’t – you’re right.