There is growing concern at the increased levels of stress experienced by managers in the challenged South African workplace environment. They need to manage their own stress in order to support their subordinates. Three factors apply:
(1) the actual challenges presented by the work environment,
(2) the coping measure for dealing with those challenges,
(3) the attitude when managing those daily stressors.
Attitude can make a significant difference.
In a recent executive health workshop a senior executive who typically works long hours complained that whilst some of his colleagues would be on the golf course on a Friday afternoon, his workload did not enable him to join them. If, however, he were to play his beloved golf at the weekend, he would be in trouble with the family, especially since he hardly spent any time with them during the week. This situation can be evaluated from a few perspectives:
- How efficient and effective would the manager’s performance be if it were really overloaded? Is there a need to provide further support?
- How effectively is the manager dealing with the workload. Does lack of trust in subordinates lead to inadequate delegation and micromanagement?
- How reasonable is the expectation that it should be acceptable to take time off to play golf during working hours? Is the attitude of resentment appropriate?
In a previous posting we defined emotion as ‘energy seeking purpose’. Resentment, frustration, anxiety and disappointment are symptoms of trapped energy waiting to be released into creative engagement. Gaining proper perspective enables ‘meaningfulness’ as expressed in our previous newsletter under the topic of ‘Salutogenesis’. Also watch this informative clip where Jack Welch describe the leader’s meaning-making role.
In a response to that executive’s complaint a colleague who had recently joined the South African team after a period of working in China with the same company argued that there it would never be an issue. In fact a six-day working week was common practice, even though not required under company requirements. It was all a question of expectation and attitude.
Then, of course, there is the vexed matter of work-life balance. Unless managers have sufficient time to recover from stress, their performance will inevitably and ultimately be compromised. Stress management and recovery remains a key issue of growing strategic importance, especially when related to those (See the Pareto principle in part one of this series) on whom the company’s success relies.
Here are a few further observations worth considering:
- How much time are managers spending travelling to meetings which they might not really need to attend, or in which there could be an effective virtual link-up? How often have we heard the words expressed after a meeting: “What was that all about?” South Africans spend an inordinate amount of time stuck in traffic. See the stats here.
- How many unnecessary e-mails are arriving in the in-box around issues that could have been addressed by simply popping your head around the corner into your colleague’s office? A common complaint is having to answer e-mails at night or over weekends, when managers should ideally be recovering.
- To what extent does the need to attend endless meetings and copy e-mails to other than those who really need the information, relate to covering one’s back in the face of lack of trust and insecurity?
An excellent management principle is that of (1) learning to gauge influence, (2) conserve energy and (3) maximise impact.
The old model holds true:
- When you have real potential influence and you take appropriate action, success will be relatively assured. But if you are distracted by too many other issues you might well miss the moment resulting in a lost opportunity. And high influence always relates to resourcefulness; either in knowledge, experience, or access to resources and budget. But critically it also relates to the quality of relationship and trust – and that can be cultivated.
- Conversely when you have limited potential influence and you try to make things happen, success is unlikely – it’s more like useless striving. The problem here can be that in doggedly pursuing an endeavour where you have low influence you could miss those opportunities where you could indeed make a difference. This calls for discernment: knowing when to say ‘no’ and when to let go. And that in turn calls for those open communication lines in which trust and collaboration will be engendered.
- So it is as simple as this: learning to take decisive action when you have high influence, and learning to step back when you don’t. Managing that of course requires the cultivation of the so-called soft skills of communication and conflict management. And that is called emotional intelligence (EQ) that is increasingly being identified as the key leadership skill.
How can your employees function with a defined sense of purpose – appreciating the value the company brings to society?
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