?Power stress is part of the experience that results from the exercise of influence and sense of responsibility felt in leadership positions.? – (Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee, Resonant Leadership, Harvard Business School Press, 2005)
Leadership requires the exercise of influence or power. It involves responsibility for the organization, and it requires the sacrifice of personal needs for those of company. Leaders are under continual scrutiny and evaluation. All these things increase the pressure and leads to power stress.
Without awareness of power stress, and what is needed to renew oneself, leaders are vulnerable to burnout and dissonance with the people they lead.
The Leadership Paradox
Daniel Goleman, authority on emotional intelligence in organizations, calls this the leadership paradox: ?For leaders, the first task in management has nothing to do with leading others; step one poses the challenge of knowing and managing oneself.?
– Connecting with the deep values that guide us
– Imbuing our actions with meaning
– Aligning our emotions with our goals
– Keeping ourselves motivated
– Keeping ourselves focused and on task
When we act in accord with these inner measures, we feel good about what we do. Such emotions are contagious. When we as a leader feel positive, energized, and enthusiastic about our work, so do those we influence. But we can only maintain high effectiveness when we are able to manage the cycles of sacrifice and renewal.
Three Keys in the Renewal Process
Step one is to be vigilant and aware of when we are out of touch with ourselves and those we lead. We can?t know this without having a highly developed sense of self-awareness and other-awareness, two key elements of emotional intelligence.
Honing the skills of awareness leads to mindfulness ? becoming aware of what?s going on inside and around us on several levels. Mindfulness is living in a state of full, conscious awareness of one?s whole self, other people, and the context in which we live and work.
Two other elements contribute to recuperation and renewal: hope and compassion. Hope enables us to believe that the future we envision is attainable. Closely tied with an attitude of optimism, hope helps us to move toward our goals and visions while inspiring others.
The third critical element for renewal is compassion. Connecting with other people?s wants and needs gives us another source of energy and recuperation. Compassion lifts a leader out of the small-minded worries that center on oneself. It expands our world by putting the focus on others. It is such connection and compassion that will prevent leaders from falling into the trap of arrogant self-absorption. That shift allows leaders renewal of spirit. And renewal of spirit is not only crucial for leaders in sustaining themselves, but also for maintaining the efficacy of leadership.
The Brain and New Age Rhetoric
Before you dismiss the concepts of mindfulness, hope and compassion as being new-age rhetoric, pay attention to the research. Recent studies in management science, psychology and neuroscience all point to the importance of the development of mindfulness and the experiences of hope and compassion. These practices are supported by scientific evidence.
It boils down to the brain. The brain processes information and sends signals to the sympathetic or parasympathetic nervous systems. These two systems create bodily reactions of either fight, flight, or relaxation and calm.
Optimal functioning involves both systems, those that lead to action, and those that lead to recuperation. Unfortunately, in organizations little emphasis or encouragement is given to renewal and recovery activities.
Here are some common recovery rituals that involve the parasympathetic nervous system responsible for renewal:
Walking (also a way of meditating)
Yoga and stretching
Sports (either team or individual, competitive or not)
Dancing and singing
Humor and laughing
Listening to music
Reading books (novels as well as business related)
Doing volunteer work
Participation in religious or philosophical groups
Of course, each of these activities involve the whole body and both nervous systems. The key is in one?s attitude. It is possible to let ambition and competitiveness interfere with the relaxation and recovery processes at any time. Again, the key is in being aware and mindful of how we manage our thoughts, our bodies and our spirits.
There is a big difference between good leadership practices that can be defined and tracked, and trendy, empty words commonly found in popular magazine articles. These ideas ? that leadership power stress can be managed by employing mindfulness, hope and compassion for renewal ? are not only logical, but validated by scientific research.
As relevant practices, they are also applicable. They not only make sense, but they can be easily adopted in the context of a leader?s work world. There are several exercises one can engage in to develop self and other-awareness, to increase mindfulness. Like many leadership development tasks, it is best to engage the services of a qualified executive coach.
This is part 2 of a 2 part article on Leadership Power Stress by author Patsi Krakoff. In part 1, we examined the causes of power stress.