How to tell if stress is getting the better of you–and why a clean sock drawer might be bad news for your business.

One of my mentors describes how she knows when she has become out of control:

“When my sock drawer is perfectly folded, sorted and lined up, I know that I am out of control in my life.”

Her logic is simple—the sock drawer is the lowest priority item on her life’s to-do list. When everything else is out of control, she sorts her sock drawer. At least then she can feel like she got something done and is back in control. However, a clean sock-drawer may be a bad sign for a business owner.

Recognizing that all of us have some version of a “sock drawer” in our life, have you figured out what yours is and what condition it’s in?

This can be a crazy time of year for lots of businesses. Budgets, seasonal sales concentration, holidays eating into production time…the list is long. What happens during these high-strain periods can dictate the culture of your company and its performance. As the leader, you have to make certain you set the right tone. Stress is contagious. If you are coping with stress in a negative way, your employees will feel equally out of control. When that sense of helplessness rolls down hill, bad outcomes are the result. Check yourself on these indicators:

Symptoms that you are handling stress the wrong way:

  • Elevator button follow-up—We’ve all pushed an elevator button several times with the ridiculous belief that doing so will make the elevator move faster. Badgering your employees about projects is equally fruitless. If you are constantly following up on assignments before the due date, you may be a little out of control.
  • Majoring in the minors—Early in my career I watched a CEO go on a ten-minute rant on the proper placement of the toilet paper roll in the executive bathroom, (note- he prefers the paper to “present itself”…25 years later, I remember this rant). If the little things are making a big impression on you, then you may be a little out of control.
  • Lists of your lists—If you you have so many items on your to-do list that you need a separate list for your lists, you are definitely out of control.

If these symptoms sound familiar, you may be starting down the negative spiral. Here are a few recommendations to help get you back in control:

1) Get clarity on just three issues—By selecting the top three items for your personal involvement, you bring what is possible into immediate focus. Accomplish what you can on those three and then pick three more. When you are spinning all of the plates at once, you aren’t putting any of them away. Don’t just spin them—take them down and put them in the cupboard.

2) Stop pushing the darn button—Set your milestones with your staff and stick to them. Constantly “checking in” does not look like support, it looks like distrust.

3) You are always on stage—Remember, as the leader of the company, you are being watched. People take their cue from you—If you are stressed, so are they. If you are friendly, confident, clear and supportive, then things must be under control. Don’t indulge yourself in the immediate release of a rant. It’s great to get it off of your chest, but you leave an emotional blast zone.

You will get through the stress periods…but what will you leave in your wake? Make certain the wake you leave builds the confidence of the organization.

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