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Rising above the Stress

I recently served as a panelist at attorney Peter Kelman's BETTER Roundtable discussion of the current challenging business environment. The following ideas summarize my observations about the impact of stress on CEOs today.

Over the course of the past few months I have noticed a different tenor to many of my CEO and executive client coaching sessions. This usually resilient bunch is struggling to deal with the stressful nature of this economy.

Most of my clients are wrestling with some kind of financing challenge. Customers are taking a lot longer to pay, VC's are less inclined to blindly fund growth, and banks have significantly tightened up their lending. In some cases the banks are reacting to covenant defaults and in others it appears that they simply have decided they are no longer interested in lending to specific industries like construction. So cash is tight.

The shortfall in revenues and earnings is challenging enough without the uncertainty regarding the future. Will it get worse? How much longer will this last? Boards and employees and vendors want to know when things will turn up. What can the CEO do find out when economists are all over the map. Many of my clients have undertaken serious cost cutting measures to ride out the storm, hoard cash and survive until things brighten. These decisions including terminations, pay cuts, benefit cuts, and furloughs are typically highly unpopular and tough for employees to swallow. So there is pressure on the CEO's from the people around them who want things to be different.

But even more powerful is the internal pressure that many generate within themselves. For many CEO's their identity is deeply intertwined with the business they run. If the business fails, they see themselves as failures despite all of the achievements and success they have created to get where they are today. So in addition to the guilt of these layoffs and pay cuts and the wondering if they could have avoided them some CEO's deal with the added pressure of measuring up to an internal standard of success.

Many of my clients are acknowledging that their emotions: (anger, frustration, fear, anxiety, etc) are influencing them in not so positive ways. A few are losing sleep, feeling symptoms of depression, losing their temper, and abusing alcohol in an effort to "let go". A handful tell me that this is the most stress they have ever dealt with in their entire life.

Despite these challenges I am very impressed with how these leaders are rising to the challenges they're facing. They're making the tough calls, taking the necessary action and moving forward. They're building alignment within their teams and among their supply chain and adapting as things change.

What's giving them the strength? Many tell me of the typical stress busters: exercise, getting good rest, eating healthy, having a sense of humor and not taking themselves too seriously. Date nights with a spouse or significant other, and playing with their kids helps too. The biggest breakthroughs seem to come from communicating with and reaching out to others. Leaning on their coach, their CEO group, friends and family allow these leaders to vent some of the frustration and shift their perspective in a positive direction.

Those that make the shift are beginning to see the opportunity in these circumstances. They're keeping their teams engaged and motivated to move past the fear and rise to the challenges they're facing. They're letting go of their expectations of the way they think things should be or how things used to work and simply seeing and accepting the new circumstances for what they are. They're adapting quickly and adjusting as necessary. They're seeking out new clients, new markets, and creating new and different products.

How are you dealing with the stress of these challenging times? What's your perspective? What do you need to let go of? What opportunity awaits you and your business? Let us know if we can help you explore these questions and raise your game when you need it the most.

Email us to find out how we can help you and your company perform better.

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