Being a manager is both challenging and rewarding. Achieving results and seeing team members thrive as they settle into their roles is very satisfying. Great managers succeed in the role when they pay attention to the dynamics of team work. Great managers recognise that the technical aspect of the function needs attention. Results have to be achieved but the more challenging aspect of the role is managing people. When results are dropping, productivity nose-diving, co-operation vanishing and pressure is mounting from the leader, the role can be challenging and stressful.
In these situations the manager can experience a sense of loss of control. Natural instincts tend to push us towards pedalling harder in the hope the situation will be reversed. Actually the opposite action is required of the manager. This is the time to pause, step back and assess what is happening and why it is happening. Pausing is counter intuitive but necessary to gain control and in the process reduce stress. There is a direct correlation between control and stress levels. As we lose control we increase our stress levels. So obviously the key to reducing stress is taking control. How do managers tend to lose control?
Reacting in the moment
1. Do you find yourself constantly responding to requests and reacting to issues? Do you feel like you are always putting out fires? This type of behaviour becomes habitual and often we’re not aware of how we are feeding into it, encouraging it. It’s time to step back for a moment. Give yourself some space before reacting. Ask yourself “is this important and urgent” or is it “important but not urgent”? Of course your initial response will probably be it’s both important and urgent. However, when you dig at this question the answer is often that the issue is “important but not urgent”. If so, then take control. Figure out how and when you can work on the issue. In other words, plan.
Biting off more than you can chew
2. Break down tasks and activities to manageable sizes. Don’t be overly ambitious. Be realistic. You’ve a lot more control when managing small tasks or activities which means you’ll find the process of completing them less stressful. When the tasks or activities have been identified schedule them into your working day or week. In other words, plan.
Pushing out deadlines
3. With each deadline that is pushed out your sense of control and confidence in what you’re doing is eroded. Commit to deadlines and deliver to them. Be realistic about your deadlines and use your influencing skills when negotiating deadlines with others. People prefer when the deadline is longer than anticipated but it’s achieved rather than an ambitious deadline that constantly moves.
All of the above are small but necessary actions. As you implement these steps not only do you help yourself to manage your stress but you demonstrate best practices to key team members with the potential to be great managers.
Tricia Cunningham is co-founder and senior partner at LEAP.