Today’s business climate is not for cowards. Evolving technology, increasingly fluid job descriptions and constant public scrutiny can be unsettling for even the most competent leaders. Psychologist Dr. Rob McKenna explains why much of your productivity is dependent on your ability to overcome anxiety and embrace change.
The inability to manage stress during periods of change can make you uptight, controlling, anxious, or angry—and that threatens both your productivity and the bottom line. It also negatively affects your team.
If you want to stand out as a leader…simply be calm.
In an effort to find out how to become the eye of the storm, we spoke with Dr. Rob McKenna, who is the chair of the Industrial-Organizational Psychology Department at Seattle Pacific University, founder of BadBobby, and a consultant who works with Fortune 100 leaders and organizations. We asked him how executives can exude confidence and composure even in the midst of frustrations and uncertainty.
McKenna teaches leaders it’s possible to remain authentic, clear-headed, and effective. He shares three important tips.
McKenna says that all too often leaders fail to handle pressure appropriately and give in to unhealthy responses, adding, “There’s the Donald Trump path where they just say it like they feel it at every moment. Or you take the path of leaders who are going to hide something. They aren’t going to give it to us like they see it. We’re going to see a really filtered version of themselves publicly.” Both of these approaches are stress responses and can wreak havoc in the workplace.
McKenna knows that it’s not easy to do this clearly when you’re under pressure. He explains, “People don’t have the bandwidth. Most leaders, even those who are very senior, take things very personally."
When you are under the gun, it’s common to respond emotionally. McKenna says leaders need to "maintain their objectivity," even when the pressure is increasing. It’s important that you make your actions and conversations based solely on what needs to be done—not how you feel about it all.
Know What You Want
When urgent messages and deadlines swirl around you, demanding your attention and energy, it can be difficult to remain calm. McKenna has helped leaders stay evenhanded by recommending they focus on their purpose.
McKenna states, “The primary driver to someone’s ability to self-regulate in real time is a sense of purpose. One of the most powerful factors is a leader’s ability to not only think about the action they’re going to take but the purpose behind the action— the why. The leaders who are doing this well are the ones who could describe to you exactly why they’re in the situation in the first place. They have this transcending sense of purpose that’s larger than themselves.”
How do you put this into action? He says, “Figure out what it is you want and why you want it. It’s about showing up like you mean it.”
McKenna believes that this not only helps you regulate yourself, but also it will help you become a better leader. “Conviction is knowing what you want and expressing it like you mean it and if you do that, it makes you much more interesting. People follow conviction. People need to know what matters to you.”
Zip Your Lips
McKenna’s second piece of advice is simple—sometimes you need to zip your lips. He says “There’s a chapter in my last book named ‘Shut Up.’ What I’m asking leaders to do is find moments where they will actually stop talking and instead of trying to be interesting will be interested.”
Listening has a powerful ability to both calm you down and help alleviate stress and anxiety for your team. McKenna suggests, “Next time you go into a meeting with your staff, take fifteen minutes and ask them what they think about the strategy the group has taken and just shut up for fifteen minutes. Everything on the inside of you will cause you to believe you should be speaking because that’s what you’re good at and that’s what you’re paid for, but what you need to do is step back and let people bring their opinions to the table.”
If you take one thing away from McKenna’s advice, let it be this— you can increase your ability to respond to stress constructively by thinking and communicating in a way that fosters calmness. Change is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to result in mental chaos. Regardless of the challenges you face and the weight put on your shoulders, you can resist the centrifugal forces of stress and remain focused and productive.