His to-do list was overwhelming. He didn’t feel like his team was able to support him in getting any of the work on his plate done. All his projects felt like they were due yesterday. He wasn’t sleeping or eating well. And he was hungry for things to be different, to be easier.
When I agreed to work with - let’s call him Calvin - I was encouraged. His life was full, he had lots on the go, and he also knew that things could be different. Being stressed out, overwhelmed, tired, and frustrated are not our natural states … and Calvin wanted to get back to his. So I said game on.
As the head of his department, he was responsible for both his own performance at work and also the performance of his team. Through our coaching sessions together, he began to see how his behaviour and state were impacting the rest of his team’s performance.
“No one likes working for a big stress case,” he said in a recent session.
Calvin’s story isn’t uncommon. I’ve worked for, and with, incredibly talented managers and leaders. They know their stuff inside-out. They take the lead, get things done, and demand a high caliber of work from both themselves and those around them. Those characteristics tend to also create an environment of urgency, ownership, and high pressure.
One of the largest differentiating factors between managers that create cohesive teams + consistent results in that type of environment and those that don’t is in their ability to weather the storm. When times are tough, when conversations are heated, when the to-do list is long, or when big decisions need to be made - are they able to handle these situations with composure and calmness? Or do they turn into “one big stress case?”
So how do you avoid the later? Here are (Calvin-approved) tips on how to weather the storm as a manager.
TIP 1) Find silence in the stall.
Often days are jam-packed with back-to-back meetings and the only time to yourself is when going to the washroom. #truth
Instead of rushing in and out - take a seat (yes, even if you don’t have to gentlemen). Do what you need to do, flush, and then take a few more minutes to enjoy the silence of the bathroom. Leave your phone alone. Close your eyes. Take ten deeps breaths.
They may be the only uninterrupted intentional breaths you take all day - so enjoy them.
And then wash your hands.
TIP 2) Match your breath with your heartbeat.
When the heart is racing, the brain begins to think it is in physical danger - even if you are simply sitting in a boardroom waiting to be called on to present your quarterly results. There is no physical danger there - you’ll likely come out of the room alive - yet mentally, this can be nerve-racking. With a simple breathing exercise, you can slow down your heart and your mind all at the same time.
Inhale through your nose and count 4 beats of your heart - consciously trying to extend the amount of time between each beat.
Exhale through your nose and count 4 beats - again, consciously slowing down the heart rate.
Do at least three rounds like this.
(You can do this right now if you’d like and notice how you feel afterward.)
TIP 3) Slow down before hitting send.
Also known as “meditate before you negotiate.”
Before stepping into a big conversation or pressing send on an important email - go to the bathroom (see tip #1) or count out four beats (see tip #2). This moment to pause helps you put things into perspective and create a moment of clarity that may be valuable in the conversations to come. When you give yourself this check-up from the neck-up, you’ll be better able to manage the conversations with composure and calmness. You’ll be in a better state to weather the storm.
Calvin calls this his secret weapon to being a good manager. Sorry Calvin, the secrets out!
Matt Corker is the co-founder of The Corker Co. – a people consultancy based in Vancouver, BC dedicated to crafting people strategies that put the heartbeat into businesses’ bottom line. He holds an MBA from the Copenhagen Business School, is a certified yoga teacher and author, and has been studying leadership development theory since he could first read. To learn more managerial best practices, check out their online people management training program: The Manager Start Line.