Being a leader can be stressful as more demands are needed of you from others. If the stress is not managed correctly it can cause burnout and other negative behaviours that not only effects yourself but those that you lead. Understanding what stress is and what causes it is half the battle.
Stress refers to the psychological and physiological arousal that occurs when an individual perceives a threat to something of value to them and that threat exhausts the resources, they have available to confront it. Stress typically take two forms: task stress and interpersonal stress. Task stress comes from the nature of the task itself (e.g. complexity, difficulty level) and the conditions the individual is operating under (e.g. time pressure).
Interpersonal stress comes from being in conflict with others or feeling that one must meet the demands or expectations of others. Regardless of the source, most stressors can be said to be stressful as a result of the potential threat being either unpredictable, uncontrollable, or both. In addition, the more that individuals value a resource or relationship, the more stress that is likely to occur when that resource or relationship is threatened. Consequently, considerable psychological and material resources are often spent in an effort to either adapt to or reduce these stressors.
Although stress researchers have argued that moderate levels of stress can be useful for activating behaviours and cognitions, too much stress tends to be detrimental to the individual's physical and psychological health. In situations where individuals are subjected to prolonged periods of stress (and subsequent extended resource expenditure), burnout is likely to occur. That is, as stress mounts, the individual must increasingly divert psychological resources to combat its negative effects until those resources are exhausted and the individual feels overwhelmed and no longer able to cope with work. In terms of problems with performance, stress and burnout have been associated with reduced peak performance, happiness, increased withdrawal, player and staff turnover, higher rates of injury, and drug and alcohol use.
It is undeniable that stress can cause leaders to make bad decisions. Leadership requires that the individual be able to dedicate significant cognitive resources to addressing problems and making decisions while maintaining awareness of the factors and circumstances that may change their decision-making parameters. The experience of stress impedes these processes. There is little disagreement in the leadership literature that leaders have the potential to be either a buffer against stressors or a major source of stress for their followers. Indeed, many people rate their immediate manager as the worst aspect of their work.
Leaders need to be adept at influencing follower’s motivational, emotional, and developmental needs in the stressful context of the modern sporting environment. Therefore, leaders need to be active in preventing stress to have a positive effect on players and staff well-being and performance. This starts by taking actions that lead to a healthy well-being focussed culture in their teams. Each person is unique and has different needs to deal with stress. Accepting stressful situations will happen is key and how we learn from each stressful situation and bounce back stronger. The boiler room effect is created by people not just one person. Have the courage to take the action to prevent stress for you and others in your team.
Stuart Kelly is a Performance Psychology Consultant at Eclipse. You can connect with him here.