Unaware: Leaders under stress?


Awhile back, I had a conversation with my therapist, Ahmad. I cannot stop thinking about it. Ok, so he is not really my therapist, he is my barber, but our conversations are always fascinating.

Ahmad and I talked about the summer holidays and a time when he drove his family pulling a trailer. As he was driving, he felt the trailer’s weight and momentum behind him as he held the wheel. On the other hand, his wife was chatting to him without any sense of the pressure and responsibility of towing a trailer.

The first time I drove a trailer that was not behind a tractor was towing a sailboat in downtown Vancouver. It was scary at first. Was it hitched properly? Would my brakes handle the extra weight? What about the extra height – would I make it under bridges?

There was a certain sway to the trailer as the sailboat seemed unbalanced. I knew I had to be careful, especially when backing up while having my brain wrestle with counter-intuitive steering in the opposite direction. No question, Ahmad was correct in identifying driving with a trailer as stressful.

In a survey by the Center for Creative Leadership, eighty-eight percent of leaders reported that work is the primary source of stress in their lives and that having a leadership role increases stress levels. No kidding!

..having a leadership role increases stress levels. No kidding!

Carson Pue

In all my years of mentoring leaders, I have never seen an intensity of stress faced by leaders, as during this COVID-19 season. Whether in business, non-profits, or churches, leaders are juggling many additional demands on their time, attention, and focus. This past month, even the most effective leaders I know are feeling emotionally and physically worn down because of the pandemic.

When we as leaders are under extreme stress, it affects us in many ways. Our decision-making is affected because we have trouble processing information, and COVID has caused extreme responses. Often leaders focus on the immediate and have been kept from thinking about the long-term implications of decisions.

Another stress response is to become very controlling. Leaders stop working with their teams and make unilateral decisions as they try to control the situation – a pandemic beyond our ability to control.

Leadership stress also drives men and women into isolation. They want to withdraw, to hide, to run. By shutting other people out of their lives, leaders are often left with only their own counsel causing people around them to lose trust while they lose perspective.

The most common question I ask leaders these days is, “How well are you sleeping?” Stress impacts the quality of sleep we are getting. Lack of sleep affects our behaviour, reduces confidence, and can damage relationships with those closest to us.

Do you know a normally calm and positive leader who is now showing signs of anger, irritability, and being overwhelmed? These are signs that your leader needs to be encouraged to take time to practice radical self-care.

A problem exists in that you and I can just be “along for the ride.” We are unaware of the stress involved in driving the leadership trailer. So let me urge you to reach out to a leader and encourage them. Let them know you understand the stress they must be feeling and encourage their practicing of self-care. Lower high expectations during this time, and recognize good things they have accomplished. Encourage them to recharge, recover, pray and practice restorative activities.

3 thoughts on “Unaware: Leaders under stress?

  1. Dear Carson,

    thank you so much for this keen observation well shared – very timely and an excellent encouragement to support our leaders practically and in prayer, while taking to heart to also make sure we take care of ourselves.

    Blessings to you and yours!

    Tony Sanz Cell +1 (604) 418-4772

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