How Should CEOs Deal With Stress?

Recently, the health of Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple, has raised a national discussion. Many people think that his [...]

August 25 2008 by Bin Yang


Recently, the health of Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple, has raised a national discussion. Many people think that his health is not his private matter because so many others depend upon him. Some even raise a stock security issue. Forbes has pointed out that the Apple CEO turned to cancer removal surgery eight months after the diagnosis. Would there be less unfortunate issues to begin with if we could take better care of ourselves?

When talking about leadership, people usually do not think about sustainability at times of unexpected change, intense stress, illness or injury. Unfortunately, life is full of unexpected challenges, which can disable our mind, or even take away our success. It takes a different set of skills to sustain our optimal creativity and health than to utilize them. It is important to have both. An unfortunate outcome not only affects one person, but also our family, partners, colleagues, employees and more.

People tend to count on doctors for their health. However, how we handle illnesses before and after seeing doctors can mean life or death, recovery or disability. Although I had excellent medical training, I could have lost my mother had I not questioned the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) physicians after a tragic auto-accident. My mother suffered a cervical-2 fracture. Even after five weeks of intensive care, she could not get off of the ventilator. Her ICU physicians “concluded” that she would be ventilator-dependent for the rest of her life. My mother refused to live on a machine. I never doubted the ICU physicians. But at the last moment, I chose to do my own assessment and found that she did not breathe efficiently. Through a new way of breathing I taught her, my mother was taken off the ventilator successfully after only three days! In another example, a prestigious rehab center had some very well known experts in severe brain injury (SBI). These experts concluded that the poor impulse control secondary to SBI was incurable since they could not find the cure. A resident physician with a history of SBI had one unfortunate incident. These experts linked the incident with her past injury, and concluded that she had a poor impulse control and could not handle stress. They took away her residency training at the last minute even through her references from clinical training prior were excellent. Instead of telling her their reasoning, they told her something else, which has caused her a huge waste of time and money. In fact, the victim had found a way to correct the impulse control. But to these experts, if they could not find the cure, no one could! And they abandoned their own victim when their support was needed most!

Not everyone needs to go to medical school. However, we need general and systemic health knowledge about ourselves and different health systems, for example, what costly health mistakes to avoid, and how to select specialists. We need to stay in charge, especially when it is a matter of life or death, recovery or disability. A part of our 4-day Executive Synergy Program provides hands-on training in this area.

According to a Q2 2008 survey of Vistage (an international organization for CEOs), 100 percent of 2,400 participating CEOs are suffering stress. Stress can come from external sources, like an uncertain economy. Stress can also come from our body and mind, such as the examples described above. Stress, while a great motivator, can disable our thinking and creativity, which are the keys to leadership. Stress can also harm our health and emotions. Stress management to many people is limited relaxation exercises, such as deep breathing, brisk walking, meditation, Yoga and breaks. These are not enough to handle intense stress. We need to build up our personal relaxation hierarchies, which are the right tools for the right levels of stress. At my company The Prince Synergy, LLC, we call it a knife for a chicken, and a nuclear weapon for the World War II. We need a clear mind to look into underlying causes and figure out solutions. Different people need different relaxation hierarchies.

Another common definition of stress management is coping with stress with positive thinking. We don’t have to live with stress. We can prevent, utilize, reduce and transform stress. We can manage stress in many ways. A CEO suffered newly onset insomnia due to insecurities of her business. None of her relaxation methods or sleeping pills worked. Sleep is very important to productivity and wellness. She could not have a real sense of security until her business thrived, which could take time. However, she could use her faith as a source of security by directing it into her unconscious level. Afterward, she has been sleeping like a log every night. Strong stress management training is even more important at times of extreme crisis, where the level of stress is highest. Some CEOs tend to check themselves into the hospital. I had a crisis in 2007 and started crisis management immediately. I used my relaxation hierarchy to keep a clear mind, and in the meantime, kept telling myself that the crisis was not the end of the world. Instead of spending time in the hospital, I worked on my solution to turn the crisis into an opportunity the same night.

Our beliefs, perceptions, standards, visions and expectations can also affect the outcome. The cases of my mother and the rehab center are also good examples of blindly following authority figures (such as the ICU physicians) and assumptions. What we can see in society and ourselves can determine how we act and what we can achieve. I did not value eastern medicine in medical school. After being through family injuries and personal challenges, I have appreciated its recovery and relaxation power more and more. I sometimes acupuncture myself and pick up my own herb tea for certain types of tiredness and stress. I did not know about the internet or computers in high school. What I want and can do today is different from what was possible back then. There are many ways to sustain our optimal levels. We won’t see them untill we are open to them. How we act can also affect our health and potential profoundly. A star athlete from Fargo High School joined Stanford on a four-year football scholarship. After he ran into bigger and meaner competitors, he chose to focus upon his economics major. He has since built a multi-billion dollar bank. What if he had chosen steroid for temporary gain, or used drugs for temporary high like many others? He would have had to face more problems down the road, such as systemic injuries or issues related to addictions.

Our mind, body and stress management are one integrated system. We can be limited internally and externally. The limitations can lead to stress issues in business and health if we do not take care them efficiently. We can and need to utilize our full internal and external resources, and prosper in business and life. In summary, the skills to utilize our creativity and health and to lead are different from those to sustain the potential from unexpected change, intense stress, costly health mistakes and injury.

In this age of intense competition, we need these skills to stay at our optimal level, and save subsequent agony. An executive synergy program can teach you all of the above in just a few days, and help you build a firewall for your leadership. This is not about one key individual, but also your family, partners, colleagues, employees and more.


Dr. Bin Yang is the founder and CEO of The Prince Synergy, LLC, www.ThePrinceSynergy.com, a Los Angeles stress management and training organization that focuses on sustainable leadership and health recovery from unexpected change, stress, illness and injury.