3 Surprising New Ways to View Stress. It Might Save Your Life.

You have a missed call from your boss and your heart rate goes up. You’re trying to get home for an important event and the highway is closed down, leaving you driving through the hinterland as everything runs amok and confusion is rampant. Your speaker cancels at the last minute and you start sweating as you try and figure out plan B. Your spouse forgets the dinner plans and you react by texting, “Whatever.” Is this your reaction? Better yet do you go around saying, “I’m so stressed!” Turns out, that’s a bad idea.

Kelly McGonigal wrote a break-through book called The Upside of Stress. McGonigal herself had a lot of preconceived notions about stress. We all do. Stress is to be avoided or numbed out (say one more cigarette or beer at the end of the day). As she posits in her book, “Mindset 1 is: Stress Is Harmful. Experiencing stress depletes my health and vitality. Experiencing stress debilitates my performance and productivity. Experiencing stress inhibits my learning and growth. The effects of stress are negative and should be avoided.” This is definitely the way I’ve viewed stress and I bet you do to. Dampen down the feelings and try to escape from it.

What she found with the opposite mind set was, “Mindset 2 is: Stress Is Enhancing. Experiencing stress enhances my performance and productivity. Experiencing stress improves my health and vitality. Experiencing stress facilitates my learning and growth. The effects of stress are positive and should be utilized.” Skeptical? So was I. How can you embrace stress? How can you see it as your friend?

Check out these surprising healthy responses:

1. Rise to the Challenge. As McGonigal suggests, if you can view the stress as a challenge instead, it’s a much more positive experience. So your heart rate is up? Good, that means you’re excited, you’re focused and ready to act. It’s almost like letting the dam break instead of trying to hold back all the pressure. Holding back the pressure is what is actually harming you. As concluded in Health Psychology, “High amounts of stress and the perception that stress impacts health are each associated with poor health and mental health. Individuals who perceived that stress affects their health and reported a large amount of stress had an increased risk of premature death.” So dampening down the stress and viewing it as bad for your health is actually bad for you. Embracing it as a challenge can increase your life span. Amazing what a little mindset can do.

2. Connect with Others. This was a huge insight for me. I never realized that when I am under stress I want to connect with others but this is the “Tend and Befriend” response. I always viewed stress as “Fight or Flight or Freeze,” I didn’t consciously realize from a biological standpoint, a mama bear is going to automatically protect her baby cubs. I can look back now and realize that, when stressed, I tend to reach out to others by picking up the phone or looking for an embrace from my spouse. The connection response is built into your body.

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Another study cited was on volunteerism from The American Journal of Public Health. This study looked at the mortality rates of those who volunteered (re: connected with others) versus those who didn’t. The conclusion was “helping others predicted reduced mortality specifically by buffering the association between stress and mortality.” Connection including volunteering helped buffer the stress. It helps your social cognition, lessens fear and bolsters your courage.

3. Learn and Grow. My tendency was to try and shut out stress and certainly not try to “grow” from it. What could be gained by reliving stress? Apparently it’s good for you if you can put it in a positive light. So when you can reappraise the situation “Hmmm. I wonder why I feel my adrenaline shoot up when I go on stage. How can I harness this energy to perform better? What am I learning about my body’s response?” This is actually rewiring your brain to respond differently and more positively in the future. As cited in the American Psychology Association, “Given that adaptive responses to acute stress improve our ability to cope with future stressors, health education programs might seek to educate students about the functionality of stress in an effort to break the link between physiological arousal and negative appraisals.” Seems completely counter intuitive, but you need to view stress as a positive. This is your body responding and let’s ride the wave while we learn from it. Be sure to reappraise the stress in a positive light.

So once I finished the book, I started realizing how often I said “I’m totally stressed” or “I’m so stressed out.” Actually my husband is doing a good job of catching me say it as well. Find someone to hold you accountable for your mindset. Maybe set up a jar and put a dollar in every time you say you are stressed. Now I’m trying to say, “I’m really excited and alert” or “This is going to be an interesting challenge.” This is really tough but if it could extend my life and yours. Isn’t it worth it?

Think outside the Boomer Box. How to work with Millennials.

The next generation is invading the workforce and we are all going to need to adapt.  The expectation of a recent college graduate is vastly different than those boomers who are checking their 401k balance everyday and trying to figure out their escape plan.  For those of you who haven’t been in a college classroom lately, let me bring you up to date, the twenty-somethings are texting on their smart phones, sitting behind laptops and  have never cracked the spine on an encyclopedia.  So imagine the shock and horror, when they enter the workforce and they are dumped into a joyless cubicle, only have access to company approved websites and can’t use their cell phone because it’s prohibited by company policy.  Hmmm.  I think we have a problem.  We just put the handcuffs on; we’re bridling a generation that doesn’t even know what that means.

The average Millennial, born between 1980 and 2000, is expected to work 1.7 years at any given company.  In Human Resource terms, that is a blink of the eye.  Recruiting, attracting, on-boarding, training and retaining seem hardly worth the effort for 1.7 years of tenure (unless of course you are McDonalds).

So how are you going to retain these “kids”?  We’re going to need to take a hard look at our work environments, policies and leadership skills and adapt.  Some boomers may delay retirement for a few more years but there is going to be deficit in the skilled employable talent pool.   The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that within 8 years, Gen Y will be the majority generation in the workforce.

Here are some ideas on how to hold on to Gen Y and Z:

1. Purpose.  GenY can easily work for the Peace Corps in Africa for 2 years as work for a for-profit company. This group is looking for a higher purpose.  Profit for shareholders isn’t likely to cut the mustard.  If you can link your company’s vision and mission to a higher purpose, Gen Y might stick around.  Is your company giving back to the community, developing green initiatives or supporting a cause?  Are you communicating that or are you writing checks and keeping your mouth shut?  Communicate it.  Often.  And in varied ways

2. Feedback. Give it to them straight.  In an article from the Harvard Business Review by Meister and Willyerd called Mentoring Millenials, what Millenials want from their boss is someone “who will give me straight feedback”.  No sugar coating.  No veiled criticism.  Cut to the chase.

3. Recognition.  This is the generation where everyone got a trophy for just participating and in some cases, they didn’t get grades or never kept score during the game.  They have been recognized just for showing up.  This doesn’t need to be a huge budget for purchasing trophies for “just showing up to work,” a specific, sincere thank you for a job well done and why it’s important to the company’s goals will suffice.  This will build loyalty.

4. Freedom. You might think about how much latitude you are giving this next generation.   Antiquated policies about dress code, cubicle decorum and a staunch 8 to 5 work schedule isn’t likely to attract these folks.  If your business permits (I’m not suggesting that a bank teller should be able to work virtually), loosen the reins a little.  If you want some contrast, check out this video about Zappos culture.

5. Social. This generation has been collaborating and socializing since grade school.  Is your company culture open to supporting collaboration below the executive team?  Are your departments throwing a BBQ once in a while?  What are you doing to get to know your younger employees?  Get social.

6. Technology.  They are going to demand that you have technology.  A 2008 LexisNexis® Technology Gap Survey found that only 14% of Boomers access social networking sites from work; 62% of Gen Y do. Does your workplace permit such things as Facebooking at work? Have you figured out how to manage it?  The workplace is changing.

7. Challenge.  Busy work isn’t going to cut it.  This group isn’t about “paying their dues” for 10 years before having an opportunity to test the waters.  My nineteen-year-old daughter had an internship this summer for a documentary company.  Within three weeks of starting, they let her edit a piece of the documentary.  Is your company willing to do that?  How are you challenging this next generation? Challenge them early and often.

8. Open. Whether you are ready or not, within the next eight years more than 50% of the workforce is going to be Millenials.  Are you open to change?  Regardless, it’s going to happen.  Work/life balance, flexible work schedules and virtual offices are here to stay.  Think outside of the boomer box and open yourself up to the next generation.

I realize that not all industries can adopt all of these measures, but we can take some steps on one or two.  This is not one-size-fits all.  The point here is to stay ahead of the talent war looming  within the next decade.

6 Ways to Squelch the Micro-Manager Within. Tyrant Repellent.

A micro-managing puppet master, have you ever worked for one?  It’s a nightmare.  You will never be right.  You will rarely be listened to.  The nit picking will be never ending.  You start to wonder if you should get permission to go to the bathroom.  My very first job out of college was for a catering firm run by a micro-managing control freakish Tyrant.  The angle of the bread was never quite right, the food portion incorrect, the manner in which we sent orders out was inefficient and any decision I made (did I mention I was the manager?) was misguided. All according to the Tyrant.  I left the job after 18 months.  I was new to the workforce but I was stressed out beyond repair of cigarettes and alcohol.

I’ve seen many micro-managers since leaving that job, but I’m happy to say, I’ve never worked for another Tyrant.  I think I must have radar to spot them when interviewing for a new opportunity.  I’ll speak my mind too freely during the interview and somehow I don’t get a call back.  Hmmm…“she’s too independent,” “thinks for herself too much,”  “that will never do.”

What about looking in the mirror?  Are there places and circumstances in your life where you are a bit of a Tyrant?  Been a helicopter parent?  A controlling friend?  A meddling daughter?  I think there are parts to everyone’s life where we just can’t let go.  My husband micromanages Christmas morning, deliberating who gets what present and when. But hey, it’s once a year.  He can be the elf if he wants.

If you want to control the Tyrant within? Here are some suggestions:

1. Listen.  “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply” – Stephen Covey.  I might add, “They listen with the intent to be right.” This has Tyrant written all over it.  There was a Tyrant colleague of mine who “asked” for guidance and then did the complete opposite.  He wasn’t listening.  He was paying me lip service.  The first step to earning respect is listening to understand.

2. Accountability.   In Liz Wiseman’s book  Multipliers, she suggests that the manager own 49% of the decision and that the direct report own 51%.  This is a beautiful balance.  This doesn’t take the person who delegated out of the picture but the accountability rests, by the slightest margin, on the direct report.  It’s empowering.  This is your project but your manager is going to be there to fully support you.

3. Challenge. This is frequently described as a stretch goal. This is asking someone to go beyond their normal limitations, to stretch or challenge themselves.  I was just talking to a friend yesterday about a race that is coming up.  There is a half marathon, a 10k, and a 5k.  I was vacillating between the 5k and the 10k.  He challenged me.  “You can do the 10k, Cathy! You’ll be ready in four weeks.”  His confidence inspired me to sign up for the longer distance.  Challenge those around you.

4. Present. As in, be present.  Let go of past and future.  If you are thinking about all your failures (i.e. past relationships, weight gain, enemies) and how this isn’t going to work, you are not present.   If you are calculating what your spouse is going to do the minute he gets home (i.e. dump the garbage, mow the lawn), you are not present. Marching to your own agenda and maintaining your image is not going to inspire those around you.  Tyrant’s live in Paranoia-ville.  Stay clear.

5. Finger pointing. Fall on the sword.  It may not be your fault that the dog got sick on the carpet, just clean it up and move on.  Your assistant messed up the report? My instructions must have been incomplete.  I’ll do better the next time, and so will she.  Maybe the process needs to be tweaked.  This is not the time to call anyone on the carpet.  Casting blame only makes you build walls to your kingdom and breeds distrust.

6. Invest.  It takes time, money and resources to build up those around you.  There are countless avenues to empower the people in your life. A summer camp session for your kid.  Web course for your partner.  An excel class for your assistant.  Encourage and invest in those around to pursue their passion.  They will remember you for your support.  They’ll have your back as well.

So here is your Tyrant repellent.  Try out one or two and see if you don’t reap the rewards.  Be a better leader regardless of your job title.

What do you do to lead others more effectively?

Think outside the Boomer Box.

The next generation is invading the workforce and we are all going to need to adapt.  The expectation of a recent college graduate is vastly different than those boomers who are checking their 401k balance everyday and trying to figure out their escape plan.  For those of you who haven’t been in a college classroom lately, let me bring you up to date, the twenty-somethings are texting on their smart phones, sitting behind laptops and  have never cracked the spine on an encyclopedia.  So imagine the shock and horror, when they enter the workforce and they are dumped into a joyless cubicle, only have access to company approved websites and can’t use their cell phone because it’s prohibited by company policy.  Hmmm.  I think we have a problem.  We just put the handcuffs on; we’re bridling a generation that doesn’t even know what that means.

The average Millennial, born between 1980 and 2000, is expected to work 1.7 years at any given company.  In Human Resource terms, that is a blink of the eye.  Recruiting, attracting, on-boarding, training and retaining seem hardly worth the effort for 1.7 years of tenure (unless of course you are McDonalds).

So how are you going to retain these “kids”?  We’re going to need to take a hard look at our work environments, policies and leadership skills and adapt.  Some boomers may delay retirement for a few more years but there is going to be deficit in the skilled employable talent pool.   The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that within 8 years, Gen Y will be the majority generation in the workforce.

Here are some ideas on how to hold on to Gen Y and Z:

1. Purpose.  GenY can easily work for the Peace Corps in Africa for 2 years as work for a for-profit company. This group is looking for a higher purpose.  Profit for shareholders isn’t likely to cut the mustard.  If you can link your company’s vision and mission to a higher purpose, Gen Y might stick around.  Is your company giving back to the community, developing green initiatives or supporting a cause?  Are you communicating that or are you writing checks and keeping your mouth shut?  Communicate it.  Often.  And in varied ways

2. Feedback. Give it to them straight.  In an article from the Harvard Business Review by Meister and Willyerd called Mentoring Millenials, what Millenials want from their boss is someone “who will give me straight feedback”.  No sugar coating.  No veiled criticism.  Cut to the chase.

3. Recognition.  This is the generation where everyone got a trophy for just participating and in some cases, they didn’t get grades or never kept score during the game.  They have been recognized just for showing up.  This doesn’t need to be a huge budget for purchasing trophies for “just showing up to work,” a specific, sincere thank you for a job well done and why it’s important to the company’s goals will suffice.  This will build loyalty.

4. Freedom. You might think about how much latitude you are giving this next generation.   Antiquated policies about dress code, cubicle decorum and a staunch 8 to 5 work schedule isn’t likely to attract these folks.  If your business permits (I’m not suggesting that a bank teller should be able to work virtually), loosen the reins a little.  If you want some contrast, check out this video about Zappos culture.

5. Social. This generation has been collaborating and socializing since grade school.  Is your company culture open to supporting collaboration below the executive team?  Are your departments throwing a BBQ once in a while?  What are you doing to get to know your younger employees?  Get social.

6. Technology.  They are going to demand that you have technology.  A 2008 LexisNexis® Technology Gap Survey found that only 14% of Boomers access social networking sites from work; 62% of Gen Y do. Does your workplace permit such things as Facebooking at work? Have you figured out how to manage it?  The workplace is changing.

7. Challenge.  Busy work isn’t going to cut it.  This group isn’t about “paying their dues” for 10 years before having an opportunity to test the waters.  My nineteen-year-old daughter had an internship this summer for a documentary company.  Within three weeks of starting, they let her edit a piece of the documentary.  Is your company willing to do that?  How are you challenging this next generation? Challenge them early and often.

8. Open. Whether you are ready or not, within the next eight years more than 50% of the workforce is going to be Millenials.  Are you open to change?  Regardless, it’s going to happen.  Work/life balance, flexible work schedules and virtual offices are here to stay.  Think outside of the boomer box and open yourself up to the next generation.

I realize that not all industries can adopt all of these measures, but we can take some steps on one or two.  This is not one-size-fits all.  The point here is to stay ahead of the talent war looming  within the next decade.

Tyrant Repellent

Have you ever worked for one?  It’s a nightmare.  You will never be right.  You will rarely be listened to.  The nit picking will be never ending.  You start to wonder if you should get permission to go to the bathroom.  My very first job out of college was for a catering firm run by a micromanaging control freakish Tyrant.  The angle of the bread was never quite right, the food portion incorrect, the manner in which we sent orders out was inefficient and any decision I made (did I mention I was the manager?) was misguided. All according to the Tyrant.  I left the job after 18 months.  I was new to the workforce but I was stressed out beyond repair of cigarettes and alcohol.

I’ve seen many micromanagers since leaving that job, but I’m happy to say, I’ve never worked for another Tyrant.  I think I must have radar to spot them when interviewing for a new opportunity.  I’ll speak my mind too freely during the interview and somehow I don’t get a call back.  Hmmm…“she’s too independent,” “thinks for herself too much,”  “that will never do.”

What about looking in the mirror?  Are there places and circumstances in your life where you are a bit of a Tyrant?  Been a helicopter parent?  A controlling friend?  A meddling daughter?  I think there are parts to everyone’s life where we just can’t let go.  My husband micromanages Christmas morning, deliberating who gets what present and when. But hey, it’s once a year.  He can be the elf if he wants.

If you want to control the Tyrant within? Here are some suggestions:

1. Listen.  “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply” – Stephen Covey.  I might add, “They listen with the intent to be right.” This has Tyrant written all over it.  There was a Tyrant colleague of mine who “asked” for guidance and then did the complete opposite.  He wasn’t listening.  He was paying me lip service.  The first step to earning respect is listening to understand.

2. Accountability.   In Liz Wiseman’s book  Multipliers, she suggests that the manager own 49% of the decision and that the direct report own 51%.  This is a beautiful balance.  This doesn’t take the person who delegated out of the picture but the accountability rests, by the slightest margin, on the direct report.  It’s empowering.  This is your project but your manager is going to be there to fully support you.

3. Challenge. This is frequently described as a stretch goal. This is asking someone to go beyond their normal limitations, to stretch or challenge themselves.  I was just talking to a friend yesterday about a race that is coming up.  There is a half marathon, a 10k, and a 5k.  I was vacillating between the 5k and the 10k.  He challenged me.  “You can do the 10k, Cathy! You’ll be ready in four weeks.”  His confidence inspired me to sign up for the longer distance.  Challenge those around you.

4. Present. As in, be present.  Let go of past and future.  If you are thinking about all your failures (i.e. past relationships, weight gain, enemies) and how this isn’t going to work, you are not present.   If you are calculating what your spouse is going to do the minute he gets home (i.e. dump the garbage, mow the lawn), you are not present. Marching to your own agenda and maintaining your image is not going to inspire those around you.  Tyrant’s live in Paranoia-ville.  Stay clear.

5. Finger pointing. Fall on the sword.  It may not be your fault that the dog got sick on the carpet, just clean it up and move on.  Your assistant messed up the report? My instructions must have been incomplete.  I’ll do better the next time, and so will she.  Maybe the process needs to be tweaked.  This is not the time to call anyone on the carpet.  Casting blame only makes you build walls to your kingdom and breeds distrust.

6. Invest.  It takes time, money and resources to build up those around you.  There are countless avenues to empower the people in your life. A summer camp session for your kid.  Web course for your partner.  An excel class for your assistant.  Encourage and invest in those around to pursue their passion.  They will remember you for your support.  They’ll have your back as well.

So here is your Tyrant repellent.  Try out one or two and see if you don’t reap the rewards.  Be a better leader regardless of your job title.

What do you do to lead others more effectively?