Every leader wants his or her organization to be effective. Every leader realizes organizational effectiveness depends on the effectiveness of individuals. Therefore, it is critical to remember what is necessary to make an individual effective (not only for the subordinates, but the leader him/herself).
We have learned (or should have learned) that the unrelenting 24/7 drive toward a goal becomes counter-productive at some point. As early as 1908, the Yerkes-Dodson Curve demonstrated the relationship between performance and stress. Initially, increasing levels of stress increase performance (efficiency). But, further increases in stress levels cause a plateauing of effectiveness. And, if stress levels continue to increase, performance begins to decline rapidly. Extreme and/or consistently high levels of stress affect our performance and efficiency, and eventually our health.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) report some disturbing findings about workplace stress. NIOSH found that “40% of all workers feel overworked, pressured, and squeezed to the point of anxiety, depression, and disease” (Harvard Business Review, November 2005, page 53). Obviously, these workers are not going to be very effective.
So, what's a frustrated, stressed-out manager to do? First, the manager must apply some basic effectiveness principles to his/her own work habits.
A lot can be learned by a brief review of Dr. Herbert Benson's work. Professor Benson, of the Harvard Medical School, has spent 35 years conducting research in the fields of neuroscience and stress.
It was Benson's bestselling 1975 book, “The Relaxation Response, ” that first described the benefits of using techniques such as mediation to business managers. His descriptions of stress and relaxation on the physiological level were quite convincing.
Benson basically recommends a three-step process to maximize our effectiveness. First, struggle mightily with the problem. This step involves the hard work of data gathering and problem analysis. Eventually your stress level will reach the point where your effectiveness plateaus and begins to decline. Time for step two!
Step two involves “walking away” from the problem. It's time to do something completely different. It's time to relax in a manner that works best for you (go to the art gallery, get a massage, “sleep on it, ” listen to calming music, share a meal with an old friend). You can do whatever you want to do. But, here is what you cannot do:
* continue analyzing the problem
* continue controlling the situation
* continue your attachment to the problem
During step two you must disengage!
Step three is the “breakout” step. After you have relaxed and rejuvenated, you return to the problem with renewed vigor, creativity, and insight.
To learn more about this “breakout” level of effectiveness, I recommend Benson's latest book, The Breakout Principle (2003, with William Proctor), and Csikszentmihalyi's classic bestseller, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (1990).
Dr. Mike Beitler is the author of “Strategic Organizational Change" and “Strategic Organizational Learning. " Read free chapters from the books at his website, http://www.mikebeitler.com .