Even the most seasoned leader is vulnerable to stress. Stress brings out the “shadow side” of our personal leadership style, potentially derailing our leadership skills—as well as our reputation.
I learned all about leadership derailers from Deborrah Himsel, a fellow speaker at a recent retreat held by the Women’s Energy Network. Himsel is a leadership consultant and faculty member at the Thunderbird School of Global Management.
A derailer, Himsel tells us, is the tendency to engage in a particular set of behaviors that can limit or undermine your effectiveness as a leader. Each of us has a personal leadership profile, with its own derailer behavior. The “perfectionist,” for example, when under stress, tends to focus on the details so much that the big picture or the obvious is overlooked. When she is derailed by stress, she can’t let go of tasks, no matter how small, until it’s perfect. She has a tendency to micromanage, sets unreasonably high standards, and may appear rigid or inflexible. (Other leadership derailers: excitable, skeptical, cautious, reserved, leisurely, bold, mischievous, colorful, and imaginative.)
Whatever your personal leadership profile, stress has the potential to send what’s best about your leadership over to the dark side. So how to derail those derailers? The trick is to manage your stress triggers before they manage you:
- Slow down. Your body detects stress in a mere second. Count to ten before you respond.
- Head outdoors. Physically remove yourself from the fray to reflect on the situation and choose better behaviors.
- Breathe. Take a break to do five minutes of square breathing: count four to inhale, count four to exhale. Square breathing regulates and calms both your body and mind.
- Express yourself. Don’t keep it bottled up. Find an appropriate and private way to share your situation.
- Reboot. Put yourself in a situation where you shine, to refresh your confidence.
- Talk to the hand. Choose a “cognitive cue.” That’s an idea, object, word, image, etc. that functions as your own personal stop sign. Deborrah tells the story of one woman who chose to place a box of Tide detergent on her desk. Tide??? Turns out, this exec’s husband is in charge of the laundry at home, and he’s not so perfect at it. She had successfully learned to let go of the imperfection in the laundry room, and the box of Tide reminded her to do the same at the office.
So, next time stress rears its ugly head, don’t let it derail your ability to lead your team with the same grace and poise you show during the best of times.