When put under pressure, we tend to lose the ability to see the big picture. Stress moves blood away from the brain and into the muscles, getting us ready for fight or flight. This was great functionality a few hundred years ago. These days, unless perhaps you’re a professional fighter, we need all extra power to be directed to the brain instead. So rather than focusing on small details, because that’s all the brain can muster with limited supply of oxygen, we need to remain calm even in tough situations.
A few years ago we went paragliding.
It was me, my wife, and our son (back in the days when he was half my height, not towering over me). 100 meters up in the air, there was just a single knot that kept us attached to the powerboat far below. One of us saw nothing but that knot for the thirty minutes we were up there. Staring on it, willing it to hold, praying that it would. I doubt that the knot noticed any of the drama.
Wondering if it would hold,
if it was tied the right way, and what would happen if it broke. That’s what Negative Stress (the opening act for Panic) will do to you. Others (too dumb to acknowledge the risk, perhaps), saw a fantastic scenery. And note that obsessing about the knot made absolutely no difference. Often stressful situations make us lose sight of the things that actually matter; where you can impact the outcome.
It’s sometimes our job to obsess with details, regardless of stress level. For example when tying certain knots. But more often than not, we perform our work best if we remain calm also under pressure, always trying to see the big picture and figuring out how we optimally can play our part.
From a leadership perspective, there are three things that I find to be crucial when it comes to managing negative stress:
- Help yourself by constantly reflecting on the big picture. Refuse to get trapped in your office responding to email with a closed door (evidence of poor ability to cope with stress). What is it that really, truly, makes a difference?
- Help your people by constantly providing them with the big picture. Zooming out always reduces negative stress symptoms.
- If you can’t see the big picture, spend all your time finding it, or painting it if there’s none to be found. Without seeing it, there is no direction.
Too much stress makes us dumb; it’s almost as effective as Anger when it comes to producing exactly the opposite results of what we really want. Therefore, I hereby ordinate plenty of reflection and strategic thinking.
Thank you for reading,
Bjorn “The Mayor” Karlsson