Approaching the close of Q4, many CEOs and supporting C-suite executives face what seems like insurmountable demands with end-of-year goals and reporting. The pressure to deliver on results is at its peak. Add to this the possible stress of the company failing to meet goals or falling below investor expectations. How can senior leaders manage to stay grounded and focused during these stressful times? How can they navigate through the many work demands that occur alongside family obligations?
Many leaders take a personal hit to manage in “survival mode”—they suffer in terms of sleep or other health habits, they pack too much into a day, and they rush from one demand to the next without any pause.
Too much focus on productivity drains cognitive processing, leading to increased stress and decreased effectiveness in decision-making and performance over time. The result can be damaging not only to personal sanity and health, but also to interactions with others. CEOs rushing and stretched too thin can make poor decisions, bottle up frustrations until they explode, or just perform their jobs at a lower quality. This is highly risky during the time of year when demands for excellent performance and results are at their highest.
What can even be more damaging is that CEOs in “survival mode” often become tone deaf to internal red flags that employees are stretched too thin. The risk of burnout, attrition or silent apathy spread across the company at the very times when CEOs need people to be performing and collaborating at their best.
External pressures and responsibilities don’t go away, especially during this busy time of year. But CEOs can be proactive to manage their stress, rather than letting it bottle up until it releases in unproductive ways that negatively impacts their performance or others around them.
Release the pressure valve
An intentional reset is a way for a busy CEO to clear the slate and release the pressure valve a bit throughout the day, so it doesn’t bottle up over time. Taking a 60-second reset a few times throughout the day to release the pressure valve and boost inspiration can make the difference in terms of a leader’s performance.
Elite athletes know that breaks and rest, in varying degrees of length and type, are essential to sustaining high performance. CEOs who recognize that resets are needed not only for physical respite, but for mental and emotional as well stand out as in tune, human-focused, inspiring leaders. Actively attending to mental, emotional and physical energy levels rather than pushing forward along the same path no matter what can be a strategic advantage that transforms workplace performance. When CEOs model this in their own behavior, it encourages their employees to do the same and benefit as well.
There are three types of resets that combat burnout and increase inspiration, leading to better performance and well-being. Myriad resets exist, because what works best for each individual differs. What’s most important is the explicit intention and/or communication of it being a “reset.” The best resets engage the physical body and emotions in addition to shifting mindset.
• General Resets: Maintain desired energy throughout the day
No matter how busy, CEOs and C-suite Executives should plan at least three general resets during the day, one toward the beginning of the day, one in the middle— perhaps during a time of natural energy slump—and one toward the end, say, when transitioning from work to home. Think of general resets as a systematic way to release daily pressures slowly, over time, so they don’t build into bigger stress. Create a habit or block this time into your day.
General resets can look like: 60 seconds of stretching or other movement to music; reading an inspiring quote, bio feature or poem; writing down your top goals for the day; speaking to someone you love; or writing down how you will help others through your strengths.
Taking it one step further, CEOs can model for their teams by starting meetings with group resets. One leader we interviewed begins important meetings with 60 seconds of silence, asking everyone to focus inward and check in with their emotions, mindsets and goals for the meeting. Another CEO regularly leads walking meetings to encourage integration of physical activity into the day for his team.
Companies can support general resets through systems that encourage and reward mid-day walks, yoga, meditations and other energy breaks.
• Pivotal Resets: Shift energy in the moment
While general resets are consistent and proactive, pivotal resets are responding in the moment to heightened pressures. When emotions get heated, an amygdala hijack can occur where the primal part of the brain overtakes rational thinking, often leading to regrettable actions or words. Leaders should learn to recognize their “triggers,” so their emotions serve as data, alerting them to when they are about to be hijacked by negative emotions.
CEOs can take pivotal resets at first signs of stress to prevent the downward spiral. This can look like taking a few deep breaths or “box breathing” (a practice used by US Navy Seals, done privately or as a team), getting up and moving, or stopping to reframe a tough situation in a more positive, values-driven way. For example, practice taking perspective and using your curiosity to understand: What is happening here? What can I learn from this situation?
Sometimes entire organizations need a pivotal reset, led by the CEO, that communicates the need to stop, evaluate what’s happening and regroup before moving forward.
A pivotal reset is a tool to prevent a downward spiral from happening, so use it wisely when you see a trend in the wrong direction, either for you personally or within your company culture.
• Pre-Game Resets: Activate wanted energy before an important situation
Imagine a CEO walking into a board room meeting needing to be at her absolute best. Like an elite athlete who uses a pre-game ritual to get mentally “psyched up,” what can that CEO do to activate her best presence and performance in the meeting?
Pre-Game resets in practice can look a lot like general resets (combination of music and movement, along with mental preparation to boost confidence and focus). The difference is the timing (before something high-stakes) and the focus (generating the kind of energy you need for this specific situation).
One CEO we talked to works to bring inspiration to the senior leadership group monthly meetings. On those meeting days, he carefully plans his mornings to maximize his physical energy and focus and then clears the 30-minutes prior to energize himself with a short walk while thinking about his purpose and top goals for the meeting. Then, no matter how full and stress-packed the agenda, he begins the meeting by heaving each leader share a recent success. He brings his own feelings of inspiration into the meeting and activates it in others around him.
Give employees permission to take resets by modeling behavior
More than ever before, employees today expect in-touch employers who value their whole selves. When CEOs and senior leaders take regular resets and speak openly about the importance of them, they communicate to their employees that they value a healthy, human experience at work.
It also demonstrates self-awareness when CEOs recognize that they are stretched too thin and need a boost of inspiration. Prioritize resets and model them company-wide. The strategy of intentionally taking the time to reset, reassess and re-energize will set you apart from other CEOs as an inspiring leader who values employees and their well-being at work. Furthermore, CEOs should encourage other senior leaders to take resets and discuss the importance of them with their teams.
In addition to leaders modeling their own resets, they can also look for ways to build resets into company culture. At a system-wide level, this can look like company rituals (i.e., energizing events and celebrations, charitable practices, company “shut downs”) that activate a boost of energy and inspiration at strategic intervals before you will be calling on employees to bring their absolute best.