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Distinguishing Between Good and Bad Stress is Key for Leaders

Proper Stress Management Can Make Leaders More Effective Over Their Careers

GREENSBORO, N.C., Sept. 18 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Stress is unavoidable. What's critical is knowing when one is moving from good stress to bad stress -- and leaders often are not aware of the difference, according to research from the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL(R)), a top-ranked, global leadership education and research organization.

When one's resources meet or exceed the demands put on a person, stress can show its positive side. That good kind of stress -- eustress -- acts as a stimulating factor that contributes to success. Eustress is the energy people feel when tackling a challenging assignment and feeling confident in their abilities. However, when demands exceed resources, people experience the type of stress associated with health problems and deteriorating relationships: distress.

"The key is to know which stress is which, how to judge reactions to various stressful situations and how best to manage the negative stress," says CCL senior enterprise associate Vidula Bal. "This is especially important for leaders, who face the additional stress brought about by the unique demands of leadership: having to make decisions with limited information, to manage conflict, and to do more with less."

Bal, senior research analyst Michael Campbell and senior associate and exercise physiologist Sharon McDowell-Larsen, all based at CCL's Colorado Springs campus, are the authors of a new Ideas Into Action Guidebook titled, Managing Leadership Stress. The 32-page guidebook offers a series of practical tips on the causes of leadership stress and how best to handle it.

The authors identified 10 factors inherent to leadership roles that contribute to increased stress among leaders, including ambiguity; lack of control; working beyond technical expertise; too much success; doing more with less, faster; building relationships and managing conflict; developing and supporting others; personal insecurity; high expectations; and performance demands.

So what, specifically, can leaders do to better manage their stress? The authors offer eight useful tips:

1. Know the signals - pay attention to your body's response to stress.

2. Create a ritual - make it a habit to have a stress break.

3. Get away - find effective ways to set boundaries between work and home.

4. Build a support system - build a network of people who can assist you at

work and therefore alleviate some of the stress you feel.

5. Regroup on the task - look for ways to organize and streamline your work.

6. Recover - build time into your routine to recharge.

7. Redefine balance - link balance to your values and choose activities that

support those values.

8. Exercise - create a regular exercise regimen, which can help you regulate

emotions, induce relaxation and increase self-esteem.

According to CCL's 2006 Stress of Leadership research study, 80 percent of leaders surveyed reported that work is a primary source of stress in their lives and that having a leadership role only increases that level of stress. More than two-thirds of these leaders also believe their stress level was higher than it was five years earlier. Further, 60 percent of leaders cited their organizations as failing to provide them with the tools they need to manage stress.

Webinar and Publications

On October 2 from 1:00-2:00 pm (ET), Vidula Bal, Michael Campbell and Sharon McDowell-Larsen will be leading a Webinar during which they will discuss practical strategies for identifying and managing leadership stress. Registration details are available at: Additional information on this and other CCL Ideas into Action Guidebooks and other leadership publications can be obtained by calling CCL at (336) 545-2810 or at the CCL online bookstore at

About the Research

In 2006, CCL conducted a Stress of Leadership study by surveying 160 participants in several of its educational programs and through a posted Internet survey. Additional background information for the guidebook came from CCL's 2002 Fitness and Leadership research study. Finally, the observations about leadership and stress also were taken from training more than 20,000 leaders each year.

About the Contributors

Vidula Bal is a senior enterprise associate at the Colorado Springs campus of the Center for Creative Leadership. She facilitates a variety of open-enrollment programs, designs and delivers custom programs and conducts research on stress, power and team effectiveness. She holds a Ph.D. in communication from the University of Texas at Austin.

Michael Campbell is a senior research analyst at CCL's Colorado Springs campus. He conducts research on talent management and succession, management, and manages CCL's leadership assessment database. He holds a B.S. in business and marketing from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

Sharon McDowell-Larsen is a senior associate and exercise physiologist at CCL's Colorado Springs campus. She manages the Fitness for Leadership module of CCL's Leadership at the Peak program and does research on the exercise habits and effectiveness of senior executives. She holds an M.A. and Ph.D. in exercise physiology from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

About the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL)

The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL(R)) ( is a top-ranked, global provider of executive education that develops better leaders through its exclusive focus on leadership education and research. Founded in 1970 as a nonprofit, educational institution, CCL helps clients worldwide cultivate creative leadership -- the capacity to achieve more than imagined by thinking and acting beyond boundaries -- through an array of programs, products and other services. Ranked among the world's top providers of executive education by BusinessWeek and the Financial Times, CCL is headquartered in Greensboro, N.C., with campuses in Colorado Springs, Colo.; San Diego, Calif.; Brussels, Belgium; and Singapore. Its work is supported by more than 500 faculty members and staff.

SOURCE Center for Creative Leadership
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