An article by Sonia Busselen PWI PR team

10 Dec 2011 16:06 | Deleted user

"Do what you enjoy"
By Sonia Busselen, PWI PR team


Sonia Busselen

Knowing that the skills we have are adequate for the job is one of the requirements for being in the flow, as a state of consciousness where we are so absorbed by what we are doing that we don’t even notice the passage of time – hours feel like minutes.

For flow to occur, we need to have a balance between our skills and the high challenges we are tasked with. When the challenge is high, yet the skill set for the challenge is low, we are in a state of anxiety. If this condition persists for prolonged periods of time, without relief, we enter a cycle of stress which could lead to burnout.

Another form of stress that we are often reminded about is the stress caused by “technology overload” – excessive e-mail, cell phones, text messaging, Blackberries, all of which end up creating a loss of focus and affecting productivity. Our modern angst of not being able to get it all done leads us to a multitasking frenzy. A Time Magazine article explores the issue of multitasking and concludes that frantic multitasking actually deludes us into thinking that we are getting a lot done, while in reality we end up getting less done and the work quality suffers.

Also don’t forget the stress coming from “cognitive overload”. Leaders are particularly vulnerable to cognitive overload as they are typically required to consider a lot more information than the rest of us. Interestingly, in an article by Dr Howard Gardner, The Synthesizing Leader, (which appeared in The HBR List: Breakthrough Ideas for 2006), we learn that the single most important trait of future leaders in the developed world, is the ability to synthesise information. It also involves asking questions such as “Does this information form a coherent story?” and “Do these trends make sense?” In our data-rich world, selecting which pieces of information are worthy of our ever shrinking attention span is a key competency for reducing stress and, ultimately, being more effective as a leader.

Besides learning how to effectively synthesise information, what can we do to help ourselves, our colleagues and employees to minimise stress? Here are some strategies to consider:

  1. Actively develop leaders’ leadership skills
    Companies must make sure that their (new) leaders have the appropriate tools needed for their people management responsibilities – this is a key requirement to helping them succeed and minimise stress. This includes mentoring, providing a relevant leadership skills assessment to uncover strengths and areas for development, assisting in the creation of a learning action plan and providing leadership training and/or coaching. It also means providing ongoing support and feedback.
  2. Manage leaders’ performance pro-actively and avoid under-employing people
    Create conditions that allow all your team to be in “the flow” while they achieve results. In addition to ensuring that individuals have the skills adequate for the job, this also entails setting and communicating clear goals and expectations and providing immediate feedback on how well a person is performing – helping employees understand the effect of their efforts. This means not waiting until the annual review to have a discussion of the employees’ performance and confronting them with a laundry list of “improvements”. Moreover it is worth mentioning that keeping individuals in positions where their skills far exceeds the challenge is also stressful, and ends up taking its toll.
  3. Reduce stress through commitment, control and challenge
    Not everyone, of course, is subject to stress: Some individuals have very strong resilience and not only are they better able to cope with stress but they also thrive on it. While everyone else is stuck on the problems, they focus on solutions and have a one track mind: Moving forward. They don’t waste time worrying about what they cannot change and focus only on their area of control.
    The personality traits of ‘stress hardy’ people, are:

·       Commitment, being committed to something that is meaningful, for example work, community, family; staying engaged and involved in ongoing events, even in the most trying of circumstances, rather than feeling isolated;

·       Control, believing in our ability, through our efforts, to turn events to our advantage rather than adopting a passive and powerless victim mode;

·       Challenge, viewing change, whether positive or negative, as an opportunity to learn, rather than as a threat.

We can all benefit from these pointers in times of stress.

  1. Create a “Stop Doing” List
    A concept, borrowed from Jim Collins’ ‘Good to Great’ that is useful in minimising stress and achieving clarity of focus is creating a “Stop Doing List”. Those who built companies that went from good to great “displayed a remarkable discipline to unplug all sorts of extraneous junk”. We all have “To Do Lists” but how many of us have created a list to isolate and halt pursuits that don’t serve us well any longer? What are your energy drainers? Are these among some of the offenders that may cause you stress: internalising others’ criticism, fragmented boundaries, power struggles, unprotected personal time, useless networking, continuous one-way favours? What can you eliminate to make room for what energises you and bring you closer to achieving your goals?
  2. Focus on strengths
    Focusing on your core business – that which you do best – is the most efficient way to bring about long-term growth and profit. By refocusing on what you do best, it will also be easier to spot inefficiencies that drain your business. The concept transcends business, though: If we don’t narrow down our activities to a fundamental core from which we can grow, a strategy becomes much harder to develop.
  3. Avoid fighting battles you don’t need to win
    Pick your battles wisely. How often have we heard this? Yet, in the heat of the moment, do we stop for a second and think: Is this truly worth fighting for? That is, for example, entering into a contest of wills with a person who has no apparent authority but who has great influence. This individual is very adept at working behind the scenes and you can easily find yourself unwittingly on thin ice, wasting your valuable, non-renewable energy. How much stress we could eliminate if we were guided by such a philosophy - if we decided to devote each day only to that which is worthy of our attention, our personal achievements and our organisation’s achievements?
  4. Focus on priorities
    Minimising stress also means looking at our life through a holistic lens: addressing our needs in each area, whether it is physical, emotional, intellectual, psychological or social. What are some daily practices that you can introduce to create reserves in each of these important areas of your life? Reserves help us when we feel depleted from the day’s stress factors. If you need inspiration in this area, consider reading Dr John C. Maxwell, Today Matters: 12 Daily Practices to Guarantee Tomorrow’s Success. Maxwell provides 12 practical guidelines such as practicing and developing good thinking to gain an advantage, practicing commitment to gain tenacity, pursuing growth to give us potential and developing priorities to give us focus. The book is a reminder that “we choose our life by how we spend time” – people who achieve their potential act on their priorities every day.
  5. Consider promotion outside of management
    Finally, it is worth mentioning that that there is another form of less advertised stress: that of the unwelcome promotion. Not everyone enjoys leading others. We can derive an inspiration from 3M, a company which provides their technical people with parallel dual career paths, known as the “dual ladder” system. This means that individuals can still progress in their careers in terms of compensation and other manifestations of advancement without having to enter the management ranks.

Can we conclude as an alternative definition of success: Do what you enjoy!


The hardy executive: health under stress, by Salvatore R. Maddi and Suzanne C. Kobasa, Homewood, Ill.: Dow Jones-Irwin, 1984.

 Good to Great, Why Some Companies Make the Leap...and Others Don't

by James C. Collins, HarperBusiness, 2001

 Short Biography
Sonia Brusselen holds a Master’s degree in Archaeology and Art History from the KUL (Catholic University of Leuven) and a degree in Business Management from HUB (Hogeschool Universiteit Brussel). She is certified in Six Sigma Project Management and in Lean by the University of Michigan.

She managed change processes and developed business strategies in multinational companies active in the fields of medical equipment, water treatment, international courier services, automotive, banking and consultancy.
Constantly aware of the powerful human forces and processes that really influence the success of a company she specialised in the human side of management and obtained the International Certificate in Neuro-Linguistic Programming.

Having started her career as Urban Archaeologist for the City of Louvain, she has gone back to her roots and is now focussing on guiding people through the world of Art and Culture in Belgium and abroad in an interactive way.

She has been a member of PWI for more than five years and communicates with the press about PWI events.

She writes for the OMPP (Organisation Mondiale de la Presse Périodique) and is fluent in five languages.

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