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3 steps to eliminate (leadership) stress

3 min read


One of the biggest challenges you may face as a leader at any level is the stress that comes from one or more sources:

  • Internal stress: The thoughts, worries or fears that generate negative emotions and keep you awake at night. You’ll know one of these because they usually start with two words: “What if I can’t deliver? What if I get fired because I can’t meet unrealistic expectations? What if the wrong president gets elected? What if … (insert worst case scenario here)?”
  • External stress: When you are the recipient of other people’s demands or a problem which is now yours to figure out or solve given your all-too-limited resources.
  • People stress: The perceived or actual problem of dealing with a conflict among your team or with difficult (or just plain crazy) people, bosses, team members, board members or spouses.

And if right now you are feeling stress from one or all these sources, just reading this might bring your blood pressure up a few more digits.

To make matters worse, if you are paid to think, stress actually decreases your brain’s ability to solve problems, find solutions, be productive, get work done, be creative, feel satisfied and to do your best work. Never mind all of the advanced leadership training you’d like to attend; none of it will do you any good until you get a handle on stress – yours and your team’s.

Eliminating, reducing, or even leveraging stress is a critical and fundamental key to achieving your career goals and ensuring your effectiveness as a leader at any level. And, when you do, you will likely live a longer, happier, more satisfied life at home and at work.

Over the last few years of teaching advanced productivity, communication, and interpersonal strategies to busy professionals, managers and executives, I’ve consistently seen results coming from using the three-step ACE Approach to Change.

The three-step ACE Approach invites you to take a slightly different perspective and become a nonjudgmental “observer” of your own process (i.e. the autopilot reactionary pattern you follow when things happens):

  1. Awareness — of the feeling, sensation or experience of stress. Label it “stress” and ask, “What do I have to believe to feel stress right now about this situation/person/thought?” Hint: Beliefs are not usually the truth. We can find out if we test the belief instead of assuming it’s carved in stone.
  2. Choice. What are my choices right now? What is one small thing I can take action on?
  3. Execution. Take thoughtful action on an option.
  4. Repeat. (OK, maybe it’s a four-step approach, but your brain just likes the number 3 better than 4).

Reminds me of the directions on shampoo ….

It’s a simple, not necessarily easy yet incredibly effective process, to change anything. I challenge you to try it for two weeks; if it doesn’t work, go back to what you were doing. What have you got to lose?

Christina Haxton is a leadership speaker, consultant and trainer, and a co-author of “The Character Based Leader: Instigating a Leadership Revolution One Person at a Time.” Haxton is founder and president of Sustainable Leadership, where she blogs. She tweets @christinahaxton.