Managing the Pain and Stress of Leading

Friends, 

I have taken on a lot of public work.  And I wonder if a dream last night resulted from my heightened notoriety.  I dreamed I was on my way to a meeting, with a group of CPAs who were announcing a generous program to help people with their taxes.  When I got to their building there was a great fat squirrel that seemed to want to get in the door.  I flicked it gently with my foot away from the door.  Then as dreams go sometimes, I continued to flip it away with my foot, thinking nothing of it.  Within an hour I found that YouTube was offering video of the first gentleman “repeatedly kicking a harmless squirrel.”  The local TV stations already had it on their website.  The dream was full of anxiety about how to extricate myself from this PR mess. 

Last week, I wrote about Ron Heifetz’ metaphor: leaders in authority conduct a lot of energy, as they try to meet all the needs and wants and cares of the group.  Once in the boss’ seat, the mayor’s chair, or the public’s eye, pressure mounts.  AND, scrutiny rises.  Whether it’s Scotter Libby, William Bennett, William Clinton, Rush Limbaugh, Anna Nicole Smith, Brittney Spears, a mayor, a CEO, or a coach’s husband, when human mistakes are made they are magnified for all the world to see.  If it’s always been true that “bad news travels fast,” in this internet world, bad news not only travels at hyper speed, but literally travels to the ends of the earth.  We are all human, prone to mistakes and excesses.  Yet when we’re in authority, our mistakes can become major distractions, completely undermining our ability to get people to focus on the work at hand. 

Is there hope?  Of being perfect, no.  But of managing the energy we are conducting, yes.  We may face great external and internal pressure to, for instance, turn around a failing school, balance the budget, make partner at the firm, or get our team into the playoffs.  How do we manage the creeping, invisible, and invasive pressure?  Step one is to gauge the pressure, to see it, and to be honest about the level of emotional pressure we are under.  Sometimes you see the pressure only from the symptoms: you’re drinking more, your stomach’s been a mess for two straight weeks, the migraines are coming more frequently, you are buying lottery tickets by the handful, or you’re continually raising your voice with your kids or your staff.  Step two is to own the job of managing the stress.  Stress affects you, and it will affect others, too, because people are plugged into you.  The energy you conduct, they also will feel.  Let me suggest the first step in management of stress: talk about it with someone – spouse, friend, rabbi, counselor, business coach.  Don’t just let it rattle around inside until it in some way eats you up or erupts onto the internet. 

If this unusually foreboding message doesn’t apply to you, you might watch those you love, especially those conducting much energy.  Be mindful of ways to ease your stress, or the pressure of those leading around you.  Heighten your sensitivity and remain honest about the symptoms that show up in reality, as you  

Lead with your best self, 

Dan 

P.S.  Thanks to so many of you who ordered my book last week.  You helped propel me up Amazon’s list from 248,000th place on Monday morning, up to the 600s.