One of the most common challenges involves getting to grips with the new role (and everything that entails) with a lack of resources and time. These two factors are commonly cited as key pinch points and they frequently result in heightened stress and poor work-home balance. A senior executive recently promoted to a Board level position described the feeling as being like trying to cling onto a bucking bronco without falling off. It's not a fun position to be in and when the situation continues for some time it starts to take its toll on health, family and general performance.
One senior leader told me that he was seriously starting to question whether he should even be in the role as he felt so out of control, and another said that she was thinking of resigning before others started to realise she wasn't up to the job. Confidence takes a severe knock when this starts to happen and can be slow to rebuild.
In the examples given all three leaders were aware that they were stressed and struggling and this had led to their request for coaching. Sometimes leaders lack that self-awareness but their behaviour indicates to others that an intervention would be helpful. Unfortunately these behaviours are sometimes self-destructive and/or harmful to others.
Stress is considered to come from the interaction between the person's environment or situation and their response to it, and usually results in a feeling of an inability to cope. As coaching psychologists and coaches with appropriate psychological training, we are able to apply a sound assessment of executive stress using established protocols. This quickly enables the coach and executive to understand the degree and nature of stress being experienced and to assess its change over time. If you, or someone you know, is in this situation you might, for example, experience changes in sleep or eating patterns, changes in concentration and memory, feeling flat or over-emotional, or becoming detached from people around you. Assessing these signs can provide a good baseline from which to begin steps to address the situation.
Coaching to address executive (and other forms of) stress will seek to explore both the situation (what is going on) and the person's response to, or perception of, it. This helps them make changes to their situation, adjust their responses to it, and usually do both. The wider goal, to regain a reasonable sense of control and perspective of the situation, helps to alleviate stress and rebuild confidence.
Lack of resources and limited time are, unfortunately, increasingly common features of organisational life. Yet interestingly, on average, levels of stress decrease the more senior you are. This is thought to be largely because these more senior positions involve greater control, which is associated with reduced stress. So a key part of the transition into a more senior role is getting the right perspective and skills in appraising your situation and responding to it. This might include looking at skills and attitudes to work and workload, managing time, planning and prioritisation, assertiveness, structured thinking skills, and so on.
Anticipating and preparing for that promotion might be the best time to acquire the skills and insights to avoid these traps ahead. For example those whose previous careers have been defined by working very long hours can quickly find that they've reached the limit of hours available; those who have prospered by being willing and saying yes to every opportunity now find that that overwhelming desire to please is unsustainable; those who have enjoyed firefighting and reacting quickly to events now find that they need to delegate those bits of the job they enjoyed most. These features are often tied in with core values such as working hard, a need to be liked and fear of failure. An effective coaching programme will often involve exploring these values and core beliefs and identifying where they are now outdated or unhelpful and in need of updating.
Changing perspectives in this way can be a difficult but valuable component of the work involved in developing a clear and successful leader identity. Developing our own strategies to mitigate stress can be hugely valuable in creating a flourishing and sustainable career.