Building resilience and managing stress as CEO

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Building resilience and managing stress as a CEO

Sharn Rayner

2 May, 2024

Blog & Resources

In the demanding world of leadership, the dual pressures of managing a successful company and leading a fulfilling life can often feel overwhelming. As Kevin Lawrence highlights in his book, “Your Oxygen Mask First,” the key to effective leadership is prioritising self-care to prevent burnout and maintain high performance. Drawing from my experiences as a business coach, this blog explores the realities CEOs face and strategies for building resilience and managing stress.

The inescapable realities of leadership

Leadership is a relentless pursuit that often pushes CEOs to their limits. Lawrence’s poignant statement resonates deeply with the CEOs I work with: “There is no in between with leadership. It either slowly destroys your life or it forces you to get stronger.” The journey is fraught with challenges, from daily operational pressures to the strategic decisions that will define the future of their companies. Recognising these pressures is the first step towards managing them effectively.

Perception of stress and its impact

The way a leader perceives stress is pivotal in determining how effectively they manage it. A critical question every leader should ask themselves is, “Do I view stress as harmful or helpful?” This perception fundamentally shapes their response to stressful situations.

Believing that stress is either detrimental or beneficial can deeply influence personal resilience and leadership style. Without resilience, a leader’s ability to build and sustain a high-performing team—essential for company growth—is compromised. Thus, resilience becomes crucial not only for individual leaders but also for the health and success of the entire organisation. This highlights the importance of adopting a mindset that transforms stress into a catalyst for growth and innovation.

The way a leader perceives stress is pivotal in determining how effectively they manage it. Health psychologist Kelly McGonigal in her book The Upside of Stress suggests that viewing stress positively can transform it into a growth catalyst.

In her research, she discusses how embracing stress can enhance personal resilience and increase overall well-being, encouraging a healthier response to life’s challenges. This perspective is essential for leaders who wish to leverage stress as a tool for personal and professional growth.

Visualising stress and performance

The relationship between stress and performance can be visualised through a bell curve, where performance peaks at an optimal level of stress—the ‘sweet spot’—before declining into burnout and eventually meltdown. Understanding where you currently stand on this curve is crucial. Are you engaged and at your peak, or are you moving towards burnout? Reflecting on this can guide you in making necessary adjustments.

Strategies for building resilience

Building resilience is essential for CEOs to thrive under pressure and recover from setbacks stronger than before. Adopting evidence-based strategies such as scenario planning helps leaders prepare for and manage future uncertainties effectively. Additionally, fostering emotional intelligence within the workplace enhances empathy and improves communication, crucial for maintaining team morale and managing stress constructively.

Nelson Mandela captured the essence of resilience with his approach to challenges: “I never lose, I either win or learn.” Adopting this positive mindset can help everyone transform potential setbacks into opportunities for personal and professional growth.

Managing stress through effective leadership practices

Effective stress management is key to maintaining leadership efficacy and organisational health. Here are some strategies that have proven successful for the leaders I coach:

  • Prioritise and manage your time effectively to prevent overwhelming workloads.
  • Maintain clear communication and set boundaries to mitigate misunderstandings and reduce workplace stress.
  • Promote teamwork and collaboration to distribute responsibilities and foster support among team members.
  • Cultivate a culture of respect and understanding to enhance job satisfaction and reduce stress.
  • Leverage resources like counselling and wellness programmes to manage stress proactively.

Personal strategies for stress reduction and resilience

In my experience as a CEO, Managing Director, and business owner, I’ve found that managing personal stress is just as crucial as organisational strategies. The techniques that have worked for me and many others I’ve coached focus on nurturing the body, mind, and spirit:

  • Body: Engage in physical activities to boost energy and strength, which are essential for mitigating the physical effects of stress. Whether it’s hitting the gym, taking a walk keeping physically active is key.
  • Mind: Maintain mental clarity and focus through practices like meditation. Regular practices of gratitude and journaling can also shift your focus from stressors to positive life aspects, significantly enhancing mental health.
  • Spirit: It’s important to engage in activities that rejuvenate your spirit and bring joy. This could be spending quality time with friends or family, pursuing passions, or connecting with nature. These activities replenish your inner strength and keep you grounded.

Final Thoughts

Navigating the complex landscape of leadership requires not just business acumen but a strong resilience to bounce back in times of stress. Leaders must take proactive steps to ensure they are managing stress effectively, thereby enhancing their ability to lead and make sound decisions. Remember too, the role of a business coach can be instrumental in this journey, providing the necessary support and guidance to help you thrive as a CEO. Taking care of yourself first isn’t just a necessity for effective leadership—it’s essential for a successful and rewarding life.