Stepping up to leadership – How to cope with ‘The Stress Test’

 

Ben Neary

Leadership and Resilience Partner

Insight author headshot

I always make a point of asking senior business leaders what period of their careers they found most challenging. Some will say times of crisis, others say times of significant change but the vast majority say that it was their first role as a leader. This initial step in to leadership will always be challenging and rewarding in equal measure, but the key to enjoy it is to take time to build your resilience and ‘pass the stress test.’

Regardless of your age, experience, character or background, having the demands of genuine responsibility and accountability placed upon your shoulders for the first time can be incredibly daunting.

New expectations, pressures and workload, coupled with the realisation that leadership is ‘simply you’ and a matter of human relationships, can make anyone feel vulnerable and quite lonely.

These realisations are perfectly normal of course. The key is to keep a cool head, and not let the increased pressure lead to stress, low mood or frustration which can blight a new leader’s performance. It is vitally important to learn coping strategies which reduce stress and maximise performance.

We work extensively with new leaders and newly formed teams and at one time all stepped into new and highly demanding leadership roles throughout our careers. To offer some advice on how to pass your ‘stress test’, here’s are our top 5 tips on how to minimise stress and maximise the enjoyment of the first twelve months of a leadership role.

1 Understand your impact. As a leader, you will suddenly be faced with asking others to do things on your behalf and to a certain standard. Sometimes, when they fall short, it can be incredibly stressful but before you send the blame their way, consider what values, behaviours and examples you are setting… Maybe they’re just following your lead?

2 Be self-compassionate. Everyone wants to be brilliant at their job and do well, but becoming an effective leader takes time and practice. Try not to be self-critical, be selfaware but allow yourself some freedom to experiment, make mistakes and enjoy learning about your own leadership style and how to motivate others.

3 Pick a mentor. Having a trusted, respected and experienced mentor is a brilliant way to sanity check your decisions and reach out for advice. Ask your mentor to visit your team and gauge the culture and ‘vibe’ that you have created and don’t let them leave until they’ve suggested one positive change they think you can introduce.

4 Become a leadership scholar. Leadership and management is both an art and a science and with so much information available online, don’t waste the opportunity to learn from others. Watch at least one TED Talk a week! 5. Demand up as well as down. This is a tough one, but demand as much from your superiors as you do from your own people. Be inquisitive, ask ‘why?’, challenge convention and clarify things that you don’t understand. If people realise you are doing this with constructive intent, they’ll respect you for it. It also shows that you are hungry to expand your understanding and build your organisation.

Annalie Howling is an expert at creating high-performing teams by design. Trained and certified as a team and individual coach in San Francisco, CA, Annalie has spent years working across industries with teams in crisis, teams with unhealthy dynamics, and coaching C-Suite leaders.

“Before you become a leader success is all about growing yourself. Once you become a leader success is all about growing others.” Jack Welch

The first time that we step into a leadership position it can feel daunting. Our sense of belonging can be challenged as we enter into a new peer group and leave another behind. During the initial period of the role transition it can be a lonely place for a new leader.

To be a successful leader, indeed to be a happy and fulfilled person, psychologists continue to report that the two key themes matter most above anything else are purpose beyond the self and connection or a sense of belonging (Adam Grant).

When either of these are in question during a period of transition we can feel unsettled, unfulfilled and most worryingly this can affect our mental and physical wellbeing.

So how can we support our transitioning leaders?

A programme of executive coaching can provide a much-needed confidential space for a leader to explore any challenges that they are facing in their new role and leaving their old position.

During these 1:1 coaching sessions we explore the contribution that the leader wishes to make and access and assess their resilience. Together we create a purpose driven process to create tangible change and build the leaders resilience whilst remaining aligned to the values of both the leader and the organisation.


More from this issue
Insight
Engaging a global workforce
Working Transitions

Engaging a global workforce

HR Grapevine
HR Grapevine | Executive Grapevine International Ltd
Insight
Are your job descriptions engaging with young people effectively?
Milkround

Are your job descriptions engaging with young people effectively?

HR Grapevine
HR Grapevine | Executive Grapevine International Ltd
Comp & Bens
How to cater to the multigenerational workforce

How to cater to the multigenerational workforce

HR Grapevine
HR Grapevine | Executive Grapevine International Ltd

Our award-winning archive