How Do CEOs Deal with Stress? They Use the Stress Pyramid.
How stressful do you find your job, on a scale of 1-10?
There’s no doubt that if you’re an executive, and especially a business owner, you’re under a good deal of pressure. Making the business run efficiently, navigating the danger zones of red growth, planning for potential economic crises. . . being in business is not for the faint of heart.
But here’s where things don’t quite line up for me.
If we define stress more broadly as bearing the weight of running an organization (and less the kind of *stress* that makes your blood pressure rise)...
And we know that a company’s people are mission-critical to its success…
Then it only makes sense that the stress should be more evenly distributed throughout a company rather than resting solely with the leadership team or, even worse, the CEO.
Yet this isn’t the message we often hear. Especially in an era quickly being defined by burnout and quiet quitting, society has a way of pushing that stress uphill in an organization. Think about it. Your org chart looks roughly like a pyramid. But when it comes to the distribution of stress, too many companies have their pyramid flipped upside down.
A caveat before I get too far into this, because this concept may be controversial. I’m not talking about crushing your employees here. If you make their lives miserable, they will leave you. Not to mention it’s not the right thing to do.
I’m talking to those of you who already tend to be too nice (read this piece if you aren’t sure what it means to be too nice as a CEO)
The CEO of a company should, objectively, have more stress than a frontline employee. But the CEO is still just one person. At a certain point, you run into the max capacity of reasonable stress for a human being.
And that frontline employee? The right kind of stress equals ownership. And ownership is what helps them do their jobs well, take a sense of pride in their work, and deliver great service to your customers.
Don’t forget that 90% of the time, it’s your employees who are influencing your customer’s experience of your business. You want them to feel accountable, proud, and yes, concerned about doing their jobs well.
So how do you start distributing stress appropriately?
Stop saying, “I’ll take care of that.”
Start saying, “How can I support you in your plan to solve that problem?”
Empower your employees to address issues on their own. And avoid the temptation to micro-manage if their solution doesn’t look exactly like yours would.
Clearly define expectations and accountability. Scorecards, job descriptions, KPIs, regular reviews. These operational tools aren’t just “nice to haves” to help you build a pretty-looking business. They’re essential to building a company where employees can thrive.
Step 1: Redefine stress as responsibility (believe me, the other kind of stress will come whether you want it to or not)
Step 2: Look for ways to redistribute that stress across your entire team
Do not be a prima donna. But don’t be a martyr either. A CEO or executive leader already has more than enough responsibility. Don’t take on more than you can handle.
Set clear expectations, and allow your team to help you so that you can better help your customers.
And watch how less stress leads to more happiness, more productivity, and more profitability, too.
P.S. Do you need help redistributing stress inside your organization? Executive coaching helps senior leaders build the skills they need to lead and manage their teams more effectively. Contact us if you’d like to learn more.