The Origin of Stress
Stress is a state which developed during our early evolution to keep us alive. When a situation presents a potential threat to our survival, we express the hormone cortisol (made in the adrenal cortex) which helps raise our blood sugar levels partly by suppressing the function of insulin, so that we are ready for action (fight or flight).
It prepares the way for the release of adrenaline if there is an actual emergency. To maximize available energy, it also turns off our immune system, stops bone-growth, activates anti-inflammatory pathways, making us more vulnerable to disease.
Aren’t all these things bad, you ask? Not for the brief period that they are meant to be activated, no, they’re just fine.
The problem arises when we are always stressed, constantly producing cortisol, because it makes us weaker and increases our tendency to get tired or sick more easily. Too much cortisol also results in proteolysis, or the breakdown of protein in our bodies (muscle mass), when we can’t keep our blood sugar elevated.
In our modern society, there is little need for stress anymore. Most of us live relatively safe lives, not hunted by animals, with sufficient food, acceptable medical care, clean water, and proper sanitation. Frequently unsatisfied with how good our lives are, we often create artificial stress for ourselves with deadlines and pressure.
We deal with stress in different ways. Some thrive on it; others collapse under the weight; some forbid it. We must step back for a moment and determine if our stress is making us sick; if it is burning us out; if it is robbing us of our quality of life.
If your boss hands you a new project and says, “Pick your team members and let’s get this show on the road!” you might be a bit nervous. Before you become hypercritical of yourself, just stop and think for a moment about why you were chosen.
Does your boss want you to fail and then have to explain your failure to bosses higher up? No. The most probable answer is that your boss has confidence in you, likely based on previous work or some ability you’ve demonstrated, and fully expects you to succeed. Stress factor: zero.
Pick Smart People
Maybe it’s a new area for you, and you’re worried about your ability. Remember, you’re creating a team, so pick people that have the talents required for the project.
You’re not there to do all the work yourself; you are there to manage the team. You must choose people with different skills than yours; create a talent-range, so all the bases are covered. A wise person selects people with skills beyond their own because if they are less capable than you, you’ll never accomplish anything better than what you can do right now. Stress factor: zero.
You can eliminate most worries about a project by speaking to those involved before the project starts. That includes the team members you’ve selected, of course, but it also includes the stakeholders. Everyone has constraints, whether they are ability, availability, responsiveness, technique, integration, or something else entirely.
Find out who can do what, areas where individuals excel, who they work best with, and scheduling conflicts. Identify tasks clearly and delegate appropriately, with milestones for each task.
Consistency and Support
Once a schedule is created, your people must understand the interdependencies, and although it is possible to adjust for slippage, the expectation is that all work will be completed on time. Don’t forget to make it clear that your door is open, and if something is falling behind, you want to know about it right away.
Emphasize that help is available and you’re willing to commit resources to a problem to get it back on track. You do not want to know one day before something is due that it’s going to be delayed by four days. Make sure they understand that you are willing to pitch in if someone is in a tight spot.
Assuming an Existing Project
Being asked to take on a project that is already underway is a good indicator that you are a trusted team member. It can also be a daunting experience because you’re faced with the task of taking on processes and policies which are already in place.
First of all, don’t jump in with both feet! Take an hour or two to read through the details of the project. Review the Project Calendar, Project Schedule, Gantt chart or whatever methodology has been selected, and understand the current status. Write down questions you need to be answered as you are reviewing (so they’re not forgotten).
Call in someone from the team who is likely to have the answers you need. Question them to fill in the blanks in your knowledge. Perhaps speak to more than one person, if warranted.
After you are up-to-speed, consider having a stand-up meeting and invite people to tell you about their current status. There is no need to issue orders at this point, to establish authority. Take your time to get comfortable; people expect a certain margin of error before you are integrated. The only person holding you to an exceptional mistake-free standard is you. Stress factor: zero.
Team members will support you if you support them. It’s simply common sense: If you trust your people, they will trust you.
If your team is managing their responsibilities well, if they’re making their deliveries on time, or even early, reward them. It can be individually, or collectively. It might be something as simple as sending them and a spouse out for a fancy restaurant meal or letting them leave the office as soon as the work is done.
When people know you’re a “good boss” they will work harder for you; they’ll produce top quality material because they seek your approval and want to encourage you to continue to also be a “good boss”; they will want to keep working for you. They’re being paid to accomplish tasks, not to sit at their desk until 5 pm, despite having completed all of their work.
Being a good boss leads to a stress-free existence because people will trust you to deal with problems. They won’t be reluctant to tell you about something going awry. That means you get a great deal of leeway to deal with problems when they are tiny and easy to fix. And that makes it all worthwhile… Stress factor: zero!
More from Stewart Cooper & Coon: Boss Redefined: What Makes a Great Modern Business Leader
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