Posted 4.3.12

by Richard E. Boyatzis and Melvin Smith

Leadership is hard, but can be very

rewarding. Stress is a part of our

lives and essential to our survival and

adaptation. But if stress becomes chronic,

it causes rifts in our awareness, and

eventually erodes our cognitive, perceptual,

and emotional openness and

performance. Fortunately, the human

body and mind have a built mechanism

for renewal in the experiences of hope,

mindfulness, compassion and playfulness.

For many of us in leadership, our

lives—and work—are full, perhaps too

full. We’re involved in many relationships

and activities that use our energy

and demand our attention. These

arouse stress, perhaps not acute stress

(causing us to pull our hair out), but

milder stress that creeps up on us in frequent

doses, resulting in a chronic condition.

While we need stress to function

and adapt, too much of it causes our

body to defend itself by closing down.

We become cognitively, perceptually,

and emotionally impaired.

Participating in an event or activity,

or merely thinking about it, can arouse

this low-level, yet potent, stress—if any

of four conditions are present: 1) the

outcome or activity is important to

you; 2) the outcome or consequence is

uncertain; 3) you are being observed or

evaluated; 4) you anticipate any of

these conditions; someone or something

angered or upset you. Leaders

have an extra dose of power stress that

comes from being responsible for people,

organizations, or outcomes.

While we’re expanding our responsibilities

and being promoted into bigger

and bigger jobs and roles, stress

builds—but we aren’t given equal time

or adequate preparation in practices

that reverse its chronic effects. We are

not taught how to renew. Our bodies,

minds, hearts, and spirits can rebuild

themselves, but they might not. The

difference is our intentionality in using

activity and experience to invoke the neurological networks and endocrine

systems that enable our body and mind

to heal itself—to renew.

If you are not aware of how much of

this annoying stress—and how many

moments of renewal—you experience

each day, take these two inventories:

Stress Inventory

Review your activities of last week.

If you were so stressed you can’t remember

anything that happened, give yourself

a score of 100). For each Activity/Time

listed, count each moment or event on

a day that aroused tension, stress, or

had one of the four conditions.

• Waking up, did you think of what

you had to do, a problem, or trouble?

• Difficulty getting ready for the day

• Traffic or delays in getting to work

• Asubordinate, colleague, or client who frustrated you or caused a problem

• Delays or obstacles to an activity

• Pressure surrounding a report, task,

project, performance goal, or deadline

• Having to work later than planned

• Traffic or delays in getting home

• Conversations, phone calls, or emails

that aroused any of the stressors

Now, total the number and calculate

your Stress Score for the week: _______

Renewal Inventory

Review your activities of last week.

If you can’t remember anything, give

yourself a score of 0 to reflect that you

likely didn’t experience any renewal). For

each Activity/Time, count moments or

events, lasting 15 minutes or more, characterized

by 1) a sense of inner peace

and calm; 2) a feeling of excitement and

eagerness in anticipating an activity or

the future; 3) a sense of being in the

present, not thinking about the past or

future; 4) a pause or time out from

what you were doing or feeling.

• Meditation or prayer

• Yoga, tai chi, or martial arts practice

• Aloving moment with your spouse,

partner, or significant other

• Playing with your spouse, partner, or

significant other

• Doing something for another person

to help him or her

• Coaching or mentoring someone

(formally or informally)

• Helping a friend with a compassionate

approach (not trying to fix them)

• Modest exercise that you do regularly

• Thinking about values or purpose

• Talking with others about your

shared values or purpose

Now, total the number and calculate

your Renewal Score: _______.

Calculate your Renewal Ratio by

dividing your Renewal Score by your

Stress Score, (as follows):

Renewal Ratio _______ = Renewal

Score _______ / Stress Score _______.

If your Renewal Ratio is greater than

1, you may be experiencing the benefit

of periodic renewal moments to reverse

the damage from chronic stress. Now

spread the joy to others! If your Renewal

Ratio is less than 1, you may be experiencing

more chronic stress than renewal.

Engage in recommended pursuits!

Reflect on one thing you could do

each day to change the balance (you

might work on these plans for renewal

with another person or personal coach).

Build these conversations about renewal

into your relationships; without

intentionality, renewal will be unsustainable.

Stress will happen, but renewal

will only occur if you make it happen.

Four experiences contribute to building

closer, more productive resonant

relationships: hope, mindfulness, compassion,

and playfulness. These experiences

also invoke the renewal processes

in the body. Without periodic doses of

renewal, even those of us with effective,

resonant relationships will be reduced

to unsustainable performance, and ineffectiveness.

We simply burn up.

In Leadership Deep Dive, we work with

executives who wrestle with this issue

and seek ways to escape this downward

spiral. Although natural, this slide

is not inevitable. We can, with support

from others, including coaches, reorient

our work and lives to engage in sufficient

renewal each day to keep ourselves

excited, effective, and engaged.

The challenge remains maintaining

intentionality in our daily dose of renewal

to enjoy a healthier life and to sustain or

increase our effectiveness at work.

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