Lifestyle the October 2011 issue

Take Five

Top dogs need to learn how to take a break before their exhaustive nature breaks them and their business.
Posted on October 1, 2011

He finds swimming with these sharks to be lucrative and exhilarating, if dangerous, and soon falls prey to the unrelenting expectations and demands of others—especially Carl, a prominent powerful businessman.

One bit of dialogue caught my attention. Eddie had been out of touch, and Carl was ticked off.

Carl: “What happened to you?”

Eddie: “I was sick.”

Carl: “At this level, you don’t get sick!”

Eddie: “I understand.”

Carl: “At this level, you get hit by a car, you don’t even die.”

All high-powered leaders, including those in our industry, bear an enormous amount of responsibility. The expectations that an organization places on its leader can be endless. Taking a day off is often impossible. Time away from the office inevitably becomes a working vacation (the industry’s favorite oxymoron). Yet the very people who put the demands on the top gun often don’t understand how debilitating the pressure can be.

So what’s a high-profile leader to do? My best advice: Take care of yourself—and let others know that by taking care of yourself you’re best able to take care of the company. These tips will help:

Take five. Yes, this seems simplistic, but a short break is the simplest way to reduce anxiety and put some healthy distance between you and stress. It helps you gain perspective, cool down or rev up depending on the circumstances. Spend five minutes alone in your office before making a decision, walk around the block after a stressful meeting, or go for a short drive away from the workplace. Physically removing yourself, even if only for a few minutes, stops the world from spinning long enough for you to take a few calming breaths.

Physically removing yourself, even if only for a few minutes, stops the world from spinning long enough for you to take a few calming breaths.

Take heart. Identify those whom you trust, who could offer some advice and support. If you don’t know anyone who fits that bill right now, take heart. Many leaders don’t confide in others on the job, possibly out of distrust or the fear of being vulnerable. Rethink the barriers that you might be erecting between you and those that might be willing—even honored—to have you share your thoughts. Likewise, be sure to listen to and offer advice on their challenges. Soon you’ll find that, when both of you are open and honest, the vulnerability disappears and in its place is a feeling of strength and power.

Take stock of your situation. Are you like Limitless Eddie, running yourself ragged trying to make everyone happy or to achieve, achieve, achieve at the expense of your physical and mental health? If so, take stock of your situation and decide what you can and should let go of. Maybe it’s the need to be in control, the need to please or the need to prove that you’re earning your keep. Check your to-do list and set priorities. Not everything you’re working on is of equal importance. Focus on those things that land on top of the list, and delegate (or at least involve others in) those things that don’t require your time and attention. While you’re at it, add things to the list that you should make more time for—things like family, friends and community. In the long run, a balanced leader is a more effective leader.

Take a bow. Recognize your role in your company’s success, the value of your leadership, the team of professionals you’ve assembled. Leadership is frequently a thankless role. Counter this unfortunate reality by enjoying what’s going well—maybe it’s a new account, a new hire or a project completed. Never forget to savor the triumphs. Don’t take my word for it. As I tell many top executives, baby steps are the way to go. Test a few of these ideas:

  • Monday, take a walk mid-afternoon and see if it doesn’t clear your head.
  • Tuesday, share your troubling thoughts with someone you want to bring closer and see if it doesn’t make you feel less alone and anxious.
  • Wednesday, start to find some balance by setting priorities and carving out time for non-work enjoyments.
  • Thursday, find something to feel good about and, well, see if you don’t feel good.
  • Come Friday, you’ll have taken several baby steps—steps to help you take care of yourself and, as a result, help you take care of business. 

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