Executives at every level experience a variety of stressful situations. Some center around decision making and performance demands. Other sources of stress include personnel management, disagreements about policy, company politics and Board management. The everyday pace of business itself can be a source of significant stress.
The executive can only manage the people actually doing the business, depending on their judgement, skills and work ethic to meet performance goals. And then there is always the interplay between personal life and business life. Crises at home, marital and family pressures, health concerns: all of these weigh on executives who, after all, are only humans and not machines.
Only fools and dead people are free of stress.
Experiencing stress is a normal healthy reaction in stressful situations. It is not mental illness. So why the big deal to keep it hush-hush? Here are some common reasons executives give for wanting to hide their stress:
those they supervise might judge them incompetent or weak
executives above them might think they were losing good judgement
the Board might lose confidence in them
confidential information might be compromised if they discussed their stress
executives are supposed to have nerves of steel, aren’t they?
Corporate America today is far more supportive of mental health services than ever before. With this change has come support for health promotion and a recognition that stress management is a legitimate aspect of company management. Stress management is recognized as an important way to head off health problems, burnout and a host of other employee problems. Stress management leads to better decision making and more productivity. But the very executives promoting stress management hesitate to utilize the company resources provided for this purpose for the reasons just listed.
The solution: go outside the company to find a listening ear. Being listened to is one of the very best ways to vent out stress while also gaining perspective about the sources of the stress. Humans have always done better with stress when they talked it over with a good listener who could understand and who was not a gossip.
Be careful to find someone who meets these criteria: intelligent and willing to listen and very good at keeping the confidence. Professional Executive coaches generally fit the bill but so do others. What is most important is that you talk with a third party with whom you can feel comfortable, who will be honest and blunt with you and who will never break the confidence.