There is an old adage that states, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Thus, in organizational structures where leaders are tasked with producing positive results while managing personnel surrounded by a climate of global change, it's becoming more common for leaders to fall under a great deal of tension.


In a recent survey, I asked 20 people how they defined physical rest. As expected, all of them said sleep was the best form of rejuvenating the body (the average was six hours per night). In addition, the survey found these people used mental rest, such as listening to music, taking vacations, spending time with family and friends as well as a few other suggestions. Because if corporate leaders do not take restful action, then stress has a way of slowly creeping into their lives, which can hinder even the best of people.


William H. Mobley and Morgan W. McCall have identified that 60% of all employees surveyed said the greatest cause of stress on the job was from their leaders. Concretely, stress perpetuates tension that can have deteriorating effects both on and off the job. For instance, Dr. Bruce McEwen at the Rockefeller University in New York and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have both identified that up to 90% of all doctor visits within the US may be triggered by a stress-related illness. Moreover, when stress is not dealt with, over time, the anxiety can lead to obesity, ulcers, heart attacks and a host of other physical and mental ailments. How this transpires is evident through the cell structures within every human being. Simply put, stress damages telomeres, which are the caps to the billions of chromosomes within the human body that protect our DNA structure. Thus, when the telomeres begin to destabilize, Dr. Richard Cawthon from the University of Utah states, "Cells all over the body start to sicken or die and diseases of old age set in."


Additionally, stress can lead to burnout, which can be defined as the physical and emotional depletion of energy both on and off the job. Doctors Christina Maslach and Michael Leiter list six contributing factors that can lead to burnout. They are work overload, lack of control, insufficient rewards, unfairness, breakdown of communication and values conflict. Hence, when leaders are burned out on the job or with life in general, they become more inflexible, which could lead to hostility. Maslach and Leiter go on to say:


"Hostility is also the result when people feel humiliated or embarrassed on the job. If people aren't treated with respect and trust and if their work is not valued, their self-esteems and senses of competence are threatened. People begin to feel alienated from the workplace and may even attempt destructive acts in retaliation, such as theft or sabotage. As one worker put it, 'No one gets the respect they want or feel they deserve. That's why they shoot their bosses and blow up places.'"


As a result, leaders must take preventative steps in order to combat the long-term effects of stress that result in personal and employee dissatisfaction. For instance, Eva Selhub from the Mind/Body Medical Institute of Boston, Massachusetts suggests five plans of action that will curve the effects of long-term tension. They are as follows:


  • Get regular exercise (three to four times a week)


  • Find time to pray or meditate


  • Ask for help when demands pile up


  • Develop a support network of friends or family members


  • Look at unavoidable stress as an opportunity for growth


    Likewise, learning how to be flexible is a step in the right direction. For instance, Psychologist Abraham Maslow said, "If the only tool you have is a hammer, all problems begin to look like nails." Yet, leaders have many tools at their disposal if they can learn how to trust and empower their employees. One of the contributing factors previously identified to burnout was a lack of control. By empowering your employees, this will help them to have better control over their own jobs and give them the chance to excel in their given profession.


    Furthermore, embracing diversification means adding more equipment to your toolbox. In turn, this increases your chances of success as you have the opportunity to observe perspectives from different ethnic groups other than your own. As Dr. John O'Neal suggests, "Seeing the world from more than one perspective shows us how others see us, opens new windows on the world and gives us more freedom of choice."


    In addition, begin to pass on your leadership knowledge by instituting a mentorship program. Thus, when someone is fully capable of taking your place, it becomes much easier to take a long vacation without worrying about problems your organization faces on a daily basis. As Dr. Chip Bell would say, "Partners who learn together earn together."


    Finally, make a list of things you and your family enjoy doing in life, and then be proactive in taking the first step. The British poet Matthew Arnold once said, "Resolve to be thyself, and know that he who finds himself loses his misery." At the heart of this can be found the Pygmalion Effect, which simply means that if you expect great things to happen, on and off the job, chances are you will have greater levels of success.


    In summary, as the global economy continues to change, leaders are prone to experience high levels of stress that can lead to burnout, which can have detrimental physical and mental effects if left unattended. Consequently, leaders must be proactive in dealing with tension by taking the necessary steps that aid in reducing the effects of long-term stress. When this occurs, then the leader's outlook on life can turn out to be much more enjoyable, and rest and relaxation become all the more frequent.


    Bruce Macdonald is Manager of Production Mail for the Christian Broadcasting Network. He is the Industry Co-Chair for the Hampton Roads Postal Customer Council and is completing his doctorate program in Strategic Leadership from the School of Leadership Studies at Regent University. For more information, please contact him by e-mail at

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