You finally made it to the c-suite. It’s the job you’ve been seeking your entire career. It gives you the authority to get things done, it’s validation that you are making a difference, it rewards your belief in your values, and it is awfully nice to have the perquisites that go with the office.
But, there are other, negative, perks that seem to come with the territory as well.
The workload you felt at times was crushing on the way to the c-suite has increased now that you’ve arrived. There is no “honeymoon period!” The little time you thought you had before is now completely gone. And, the political minefields you carefully had to navigate on the journey to the corner office now extend over the horizon.
A lot is riding on your shoulders. Mistakes are now magnified with consequences far greater for the organization and they touch more careers than before.
Waiting for you in your new c-suite office among the congratulatory messages and bouquets is another “gift.” STRESS. Welcome to the CEO suite and the loneliest job in the business!
There is no c-suite “owners’ manual,” but there are things you can do to recognize and deal with the additional stress executive leaders experience. And, make no mistake, that stress is heightened if you are a woman. Stress can take a tremendous toll and lead to illness, depression and, in extreme cases even lead to suicide
Many female CEOs experience stressful work situations because of a constant sense of having their confidence undermined by men and are put in situations where they have to continuously prove themselves in the workplace. Women have also taken on more responsibilities at work while also retaining their responsibilities at home. That doubling of things on women’s plates is a huge stress accelerator.
Whether your stress is due to daily organizational or financial matters, communications challenges, time-management and c-suite obligations, or work-life balance issues, identifying and addressing it (or them) will help you successfully get through the day, meet your obligations and maintain your health — mental and physical.
Stress and its partner, burn out, do not occur overnight and their warning signs can be subtle, so you have to be self-aware and pay close attention to potential “red flags.”
Here are a few things you can check that will help you identify your level of stress and whether you are burning out.
Do you have difficulty sleeping
Are you impatient or unusually irritable
Have you increased your use of alcohol or other substances
Is your productivity declining
Are you getting ill more frequently
Are you easily angered
Do you fixate on problems and are easily worried about them
Has your energy level diminished or do you feel emotionally or physically “exhausted”
Do you lack interest in usually pleasurable activities
Many executive leaders feel isolated. The isolation of the c-suite can create or exacerbate many symptoms of stress and/or burnout.
It is not difficult to understand why leaders can feel isolated. There are few people they can trust to “speak truth to power.” It generally is not someone in their organization or on their management team, who might believe his/her career progression could be affected by such action. But, finding someone with whom you can speak honestly and who will provide honest feedback — a former c-suite executive who has worked in a similar organization or who sits on a comparable board, or an executive coach, is important in combatting isolation.
There are also some practical things we all can do to relieve stress and defeat burnout.
Face it head on. “If the source of the stress is something that’s being ignored, deal with directly, “ says Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. Stress primarily comes from not taking action over something that you can have some control over. As soon as you can identify it and do whatever it is that you are going to do to start to address that situation (make the phone call or send off an e-mail) — even if it’s not solved — the fact that you’re addressing it dramatically reduces some of the stress that might come from it.
Find A Quiet Place. When you are feeling overwhelmed, go to a quiet place… some corporations now have “meditation” rooms and if all else fails, maybe a bathroom. You’re the CEO; you have your own bathroom. Hey, it works for Oprah!
Take a Break and Move Away From the Desk. Sometimes, stepping away and taking a break is the best strategy. You just might see things differently and in a new light…and you just might come away with new insights.
Get Your Sleep. I can’t tell you enough how sleep or the lack of sleep can make a difference in your day! Sleep and productivity are linked and you need to make it a priority.
Create a list of priorities and plan ahead. Identify the most important things you have to accomplish in a given day and focus your activities on those priorities.
Promote Open Communications. Make sure you’re engaging in a dialog with your employees; facilitate flexibility in workplace policies so your people don’t burn out. It’s bad for your company, and just plain bad for everyone!
Delegate. You do not have to do everything yourself. Delegating is also a way you can identify future organizational leaders and maybe come up with new ways to meet old challenges.
Be mindful of work-life balance. Carve out time away from work to maintain that balance. If you don’t have a management team that can support an occasional time out for you, you may have other organizational issues to address.
Build in time to exercise. Give stress physical release or find other ways to maintain your health and diminish stress. Walk to meetings instead of taking an elevator, take a few “power naps” during the day or find something else that works for you.
Understand that every business — and every life — has its ups and downs, its good days and bad. But that doesn’t mean it gets to take over your life. When handled correctly, stress can be contained, minimized and conquered.
By better managing the daily c-suite stresses, you will become more productive, build better relationships, balance work and life, and become a better leader. It might also help you enjoy life more.
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