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Stress management tips for managers

09-Oct-2017 09:30:00 / by The Insurance Institute

The Insurance Institute

Stress management tips for managers

Dr Kimberley Fitzgerald, Chartered Psychologist, discusses how leaders and senior executives can deal with the daily pressures that go hand-in-hand with task management, people management and self-management.


For good or ill, the insurance industry is certainly under a lot of scrutiny at the moment. Being ‘newsworthy’ isn’t a good thing when headlines focus on negative events, which influences public perception about your company or career of choice. When times are tough, people look upward towards leaders for guidance, which can create a new set of challenges for managers or senior executives. 

It can be lonely at the top – the higher you go up in your career, the more isolated you can become. Moving into management and advancing your career higher up the ladder can mean you have fewer people to confide in. Being a leader can mean making tough decisions, giving bad news, and never letting anyone see you sweat. You deal with constant challenges (which can develop into crises), responsibilities of tasks and people and ongoing pressure to indicate that you are maintaining the role of an influencer.

Being in a leadership position gives a person power over others which can create distance between people and power imbalances can lead to dissonance if not managed correctly. Without a pressure valve (some way to relieve stress), you may end up burned out, uninspired, and even cynical; but, leaders are expected to maintain composure and self-control.

The opposite of dissonant leadership is resonant leadership which requires understanding of and empathy for others. This is linked to self-awareness, social skills and how your own behaviours and actions have an impact on others. Three key points of focus during a hot organisational climate for leaders are 

  • Task Management
  • People Management
  • Self-Management. 


Task Management

Emotional contagion is a process where a person or group can influence the emotions and moods of others through conscious or unconscious transfer. Studies suggest that happy people with good moods spread more cheer onto others – happiness is contagious. Likewise, negative moods like anxiety and fear can spread outwards as well. If external events are having an immediate impact, fear and low mood can spread like a virus through a business. How do leaders go about getting things done? The answer is to focus on the facts, the tasks at hand.

  • Maintain objectivity: Be clear about goals and objectives
  • Provide clear and succinct information and updates
  • Admit when you don’t know the answer or have information
  • Use goal setting to help your team align them with current organisational goals (try the GROW model)
  • Anticipate a crisis: Being prepared can help prevent things from getting worse. Be decisive, act quickly and communicate well. Make action plans and don’t make assumptions or try to avoid the situation.
  • Selectively use your time and resources


People Management

Emotional Intelligence (EI) is made up of four basic capabilities: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and social skills. In the workplace this is about increased awareness of yourself (and others) and how you can work together to accomplish goals. Daniel Goleman has been involved with several EI studies and has written many books on the subject. He stresses one clear point: the emotional brain responds to an event more quickly than the thinking brain. You may think you are always being rational, but this isn’t always the case. Emotional intelligence is about the ability to manage ourselves and our relationships effectively. If you want to improve your people skills, consider the following:


Self-Awareness

How would you describe your ability to read and understand your emotions (and recognise their impact on work performance, and relationships)? Are you realistic with yourself about your strengths and limitations? How would you describe your self-confidence and (positive) self-worth?

Self-Management

In your work as a leader, how would you describe your abilities for self-control, trustworthiness, conscientiousness, adaptability, drive to meet an internal standard of excellence and initiative? 

Social Awareness

How strong are your personal empathy levels: Can you see things from other people’s perspectives? How sensitive are you to reading into the emotions of others? (Not all emotions can be seen visibly). When it comes to your organisation, are you able to read into what is going on in the workplace? Can you make firm decisions and navigate through politics? Are you a service orientated person- Are you able to recognise and meet the needs of customers? 

Social Skills

Are you a visionary leader: Can you take charge and inspire? Do you influence and develop others through feedback and guidance? How comfortable are you with communicating with others? Are you a person who inspires new ideas and can lead people in new directions? Are you a good conflict manager, able to de-escalate difficulties and focus on solutions? Do you have good networking skills that build bonds, and teamwork and collaboration?

According to Goleman, leaders who have mastered four or more leadership styles have the best climate and business performance: The more styles you can adapt to, the better your ability to adjust to organisational climate change.

Goleman’s Leadership styles are: 

  • Commanding –“Do what I tell you.” Works best in a crisis, to kick start a turnaround.
  • Visionary –“Come with Me.” Works best when changes require a new vision or when a clear direction is needed.
  • Affiliative –“People come first.” To heal rifts in a team or to motivate people during stressful circumstances.
  • Democratic –“What do you think” To build buy- in or consensus, or to get input from valuable employees.
  • Pacesetting –“Do as I do now.” Helpful to get quick results from a highly motivated and competent team.
  • Coaching –“Try this.” Useful to help an employee improve performance or develop long-term strengths.

Limit the use of the Commanding (Do what I tell you) style and the Pacesetting (“Do as I do now”) style. Using either of these two leadership styles consistently will have an ongoing negative impact on the overall organisational climate. If your highly motivated and competent team is going through a tough time, try a different approach such as Affiliative, Democratic or Coaching. Being aware of your own blind spots can help you identify areas to work on. Keeping people informed and communicating what you know can increase trust.


Self Management

When overwhelmed or stressed out, it is easy to neglect your own needs. How you present yourself to your team can have an impact on attitudes and behaviours of the group. According to social learning theory, people will model their behaviours on leaders and role models. People can pick up on cues consciously or unconsciously and when anxiety or dissonance levels are high, it can have an impact on everyone at all levels of the business.

As a leader, you are under additional pressure to keep things going. Firstly you need to admit to yourself that you are human. Focus on what is within your control: attitudes, how you think about things, your behaviours. The choices that you make have consequence.

Resonance (the opposite of dissonance) means reinforcing sound by moving on the same wavelength. Resonant leadership is driven by four underpinning biopsychosocial elements: Mind (wisdom, objectivity, discernment, detachment), Body (power, presence, right action, responsibility), Emotion (know thyself, use your emotions for good, strong relationships, living a meaningful life), & Spirit (truth, creativity, vision, insight). Focusing on your own needs for your own well-being doesn’t mean you are being self-centred, just self aware.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Be assertive: Set a 'Time Out' space for yourself (weekly). Agree a regular time with significant others. Negotiating this psychological space at a regular time can give you something to look forward to and allow you to do what feels right to help you clear your head or relax.
  • Exercise: An accessible ‘anti-depressant,’ helps the brain grow neurons. Time at the gym or a class enables to you connect with others for common fitness goals. Burn off the bad stress hormones.
  • Switch off: Ever heard of a Digital Detox? If not, it’s time that you look into it.
  • Pressures: How many roles are you playing in your current life? (Partner, parent, negotiator, brother/sister, caregiver of family member). Give yourself some credit- you really are being pulled in many directions. Make sure you have equal role of importance in taking care of your mental and physical fitness.
  • Coaching or Counselling: If you have gone through executive coaching previously, check back in with your coach if you are struggling with things. If not, it is something to consider.
  • Take five minutes right now and think about five things you can do for your self management this week. Plan it. Do it!