Tag Archives: stress

A fresh start!

back-to-school-300x199As a kid the start of a new school year was both exciting and a little unnerving. A chance to build on what you did last year and a chance to make a fresh start!

Similarly, when you are a new leader or an experienced leader each day is a new start. A chance to build on your experience and the opportunity to make a fresh leadership start.

Amy Jen Su, author and co-founder of the executive coaching and leadership development firm Paravis Partners, encourages leaders to “step back and think about your leadership presence and if you are thinking, saying, and showing up as you most hope to and intend.” In her Harvard Business review article she highlights four key fresh start actions for both new and experienced leaders.

  1. Set or update a leadership values-based goal. Your people pay great attention to what you do and how you do it. Having an aspirational other-directed goal to guide your daily decisions and actions will directly impact the perceptions your team has of you and will strengthen your relationships at work.
  2. Continue to develop and increase your emotional intelligence and situational awareness. Leaders get work done through others and everyone on your team is different and every situation is different. Different motivations, different perspectives, different backgrounds, different experiences, and on and on. You need to be agile and adaptive. A starting point is to ask yourself the following questions before important interactions:
    • Who is the other person or audience?
    • What might their (not yours) perspective on this topic be?
    • How are they best motivated or what is most important to them?
    • What is unique about this situation, what variables are important here and now?
    • What are the optimal outcomes in this situation, for these specific players, for our team, for our organization?
  3. Be clear and direct, with respect. Leadership is build on two-way dialogue and trust. Leaders need to be clear and open to other perspectives – at the same time.
    • Know what you think and what is important to you – what are your convictions.
    • Ask, listen and acknowledge – provide space and acceptance of other points of view.
    • Share the WHY – include context, connection to personal and organizational priorities, and alignment.
  4. Be a stable and grounded presence in the face of change, stress, or difficult news. People need to feel safe bringing you news, even bad news. Otherwise you will end up in a vacuum with no information and no ability to make a difference. In addition, your team will look to you and mimic how you react to stress and changes. It is important to be genuine but prepared to demonstrate your leadership presence, even in tough times.

Fresh starts are exciting and a little scary. They give us an opportunity to reflect, build on what has worked and try something new.

Good luck!

Todd Thorsgaard



It never stops!


I don’t want to cause alarm. Don’t be shocked! But, as Bob Dylan reminded us in 1964, “The Times They Are a-Changin'”. People change, jobs change, leaders change, organizations change, students change, politics change, technologies change, employees change, you change and I change.

Change can be good, bad or in-between. It can be planned or unexpected, purposeful or random, small or large. And it will affect you and your people.

During March and April we will be sharing ideas, tips, tools, resources and asking questions related to your role as a leader during the transitions that occur as a result of these changes. What can be done to plan for change, how to respond to change, ideas for leading change, how to support a new leader, how to be a new leader, what to do when a leader is leaving, what to do when you are leaving, facilitating employee transitions, and other ideas you suggest or want to share.

We can’t stop change. In fact, we don’t want to stop it but we can learn how to make the transitions more successful.

Todd Thorsgaard

Common good doesn’t mean we all agree

conflictLeading for the common good isn’t peaceful. Agreement isn’t the goal. Paraphrasing writer Walter Lippmann, “when we all think alike, no one thinks very much.” To work together for the common good a leader needs to be prepared for conflict and embrace conflict.

Liane Davey, author of You First: Inspire Your Team to Grow Up, Get Along, and get Stuff Done, reminds us that for teams to be effective and work together they need to experience tension and disagreement, wrestle with it, push back, open up, share, listen and only then move forward. It’s not a quiet process and not what we often think of as good leadership. But think about the best teams you have worked on. Was it acceptable to have a different opinion? To raise a concern? Or to even get a little worked up about the problem you were addressing? I bet it was!

If you are willing to dive into the messiness of collaboration and conflict as a necessary element of moving towards a common good, Davey recently shared three ideas that leaders can use to help their teams embrace “productive conflict.”

  1. Define, discuss and understand the different roles and agendas of each person on the team. Take the time to ensure that everyone understands that each person has an  agenda based on their role and that each agenda is different. Not better or worse but different. And that it is normal for the different agendas to lead to conflict that is not personal but necessary to reach the best solution in the end. Make it OK to disagree based on their unique roles and responsibilities.
  2. Pay attention to style differences between team members. Use a tool or a facilitated discussion to clarify the different approaches team members use to learn, take in information, communicate, make decisions, or do tasks. Ensure that each style is described in a positive way and highlight the value that each style brings to the team. Finally, highlight how it is natural for conflict to arise due to style differences and that you expect people to leverage their styles to facilitate collaboration, even if it gets uncomfortable.
  3. Set ground rules on acceptable dissension. Have an open conversation and identify what behaviors lead to conflict that improves how the team functions and what behaviors actually destroy trust and teamwork. Describe what is acceptable and what is not acceptable and the process the team will use to hold each other accountable.

As nice as peace and calm can be, leadership is a lot messier and noisier – and that’s OK!

Todd Thorsgaard

Stressed out?

stressedLast weekend I had the luxury of spending time with my daughter who is a sophomore in college. She had come home for the weekend to de-stress. Between having second thoughts about her declared major, the usual roommate issues that crop up when you live with four other college-aged women, and juggling her campus job and her role as social coordinator for her sorority, she was what we call a “stress ball.” For her, the weekend at home was a perfect solution to manage her stress. We talked through many of the challenges she is facing, spent lots of fun family time together, and even indulged in a little shopping therapy.

Reflecting on the weekend, I thought about how we never outgrow the need to manage stress in our lives. As leaders, with multiple demands on our time and attention, it’s normal to experience stress. The key is how can you manage it effectively, without your stress negatively impacting your decisions or those you lead?

As you may recall from our blog last Monday, stress management is actually an important part of our emotional intelligence. Last week we briefly talked about three behaviors that can help you manage stress. I thought it might be helpful to explore them a little more fully today.

Flexibility: This  has to do with how easily can we adapt to change. Do you get annoyed when something doesn’t go according to your plan? Or are you able to quickly respond to changing circumstances and adapt your approach? Some of us are by nature more flexible than others. After taking multiple personality assessments, I know that I tend to be more pre-planned than some of my colleagues who naturally have a “go with the flow” approach. I’ve had to work on my ability to flex where I need to compromise with others or quickly adapt to changing circumstances.  In those moments, it can be helpful to stop and ask, “How can I flex my attitude, my behaviors, or my approach?”

Stress Tolerance: This has to do with our ability to cope with stressful situations. Do you have healthy ways to cope with stress? For me, ways to improve my stress tolerance include regular exercise, eating healthy foods, and getting enough sleep. (I won’t go into detail about some of my less healthy ways of coping which include wine and copious amounts of chocolate.) Sometimes in stressful situations, just taking a quick moment to reflect and “breathe in, breathe out” helps me to not over-react. For my daughter, taking time away with her family was an excellent coping strategy.

Optimism: This is all about having a positive outlook. While the expression, “Is your glass half empty, or half full?” seems trite, it is really true. If you’re seeing something in a negative light, can you reframe it? Is there a positive perspective you can bring to the situation? For me, it helps to think about someone else’s viewpoint other than my own. If I’m having trouble seeing a clear positive viewpoint, I seek out other’s perspectives and ask lots of questions. Just reframing the situation as a learning opportunity or a chance to grow, I’ve found can be very helpful.

What are some of your strategies to manage stress?

Anita Rios


Stressed employees?

stressAccording to a 2013 study conducted by American Psychological Association, more than one-third of American workers experience chronic work stress. It’s no wonder that with many organizations trying to “do more with less” that it often translates into heavier workloads for employees and higher stress levels.

But what can you do to alleviate workload stress for your employees? Here are some excellent strategies from the University of St. Andrews that leaders can employ:

  • Monitor workload and refuse additional work when your team is under pressure
  • Set realistic deadlines
  • Foster a problem solving approach
  • Developing action plans and plan/forecast workloads
  • Review processes to identify improvements
  • Provide training when needed
  • Promote task rotation/job enrichment
  • Identify additional resources that can be brought in such as temporary or part-time help

Additionally, they identified unhelpful management strategies that you will want to avoid (or stop) doing:

  • Delegate work unequally
  • Create unrealistic deadlines
  • Listen, but don’t take action
  • Demonstrate lack of consistency in approach or indecisiveness
  • Panic instead of planning workflow and deadlines
  • Stay oblivious or unaware of team pressures

What has worked for you in monitoring and managing workload stress for those you lead?

Anita Rios