#41 from R&D Innovator Volume 2, Number 6          June 1993

Unstress for Success
by Roger Fritz, Ph.D.

Dr. Fritz is president of Organization Development Consultants in Naperville, Illinois.  He is the author of 26 books, including Rate Your Executive Potential (John Wiley & Sons, New York, NY, 1990).  Dr. Fritz also created the People Compatibility Software System, which evaluates the compatibility of people on the job.

If being a boss of a research team is worth striving for, then being the boss of the entire R&D function ought to be the ultimate goal—right?  Then why are so many top people acting as if they don't like it?  Why so many complaints, so much pressure?  Why is stress so prevalent among people who should have the greatest influence on their R&D division? 

Perhaps most executives aren’t deliberate enough about dealing with the inevitable stress in their lives.  Perhaps they think stress will just disappear if they don't dwell on it. 

A realistic approach to stress management, it seems to me, has five steps.  You must:

1.  identify the source of your stress

2.  select the particular stresses you want to deal with

3.  be realistic about the barriers to overcoming them

4.  develop a personal stress management program

5.  make the plan work

Step I—Identifying the Sources of Stress

The following checklist can help identify the sources of your stress.  Consider each item carefully and indicate how stressful it is for you on this scale: 1 = never, 2 = seldom, 3 = sometimes, 4 = often, 5 = always.

____  1.  I am unclear about my priorities at work.

____  2.  Other's demands for my time at work can't be satisfied.

____  3.  I think about my health or other personal problems almost every day.

____  4.  There are too many demands on me.

____  5.  I fear I am not well qualified for my job.

____  6.  I am concerned about the effectiveness of some of the people I must rely on.

____  7.  There is little chance for the R&D organization to become what I want it to be.

____  8.  I never seem to have time to finish what I start.

____  9.  I have to work under conditions that prevent me from doing my best.

____10.  I have too much to do and too little time to do it.

____11.  I don't have the support I need at home.

____12.  I often can't rely on the loyalty of some key employees.

____13.  The fear of failure is constantly on my mind.

____14.  I have a poor relationship with some of the people I must work with regularly.

____15.  I am interrupted too often.

____16.  I feel pressure from home about my work hours.

____17.  I spend my time fighting fires rather than carrying out a plan.

____18.  My division is continually threatened by financial problems.

____19.  I don't have the opportunity to use my special knowledge and skills in my work.

____20.  I always seem to move from one deadline to the next.

____  TOTAL

Scoring Key

A total of


Action needed

90 – 100

Severe stress

Change overdue

80 – 90

Dangerous stress

Change now

70 - 80

Moderate stress

Change necessary

60 - 70

Abnormal stress

Change soon

50 - 60

Normal stress

Change selectively

Under 50

Stress should not limit your effectiveness

Step II--The Priorities

As you study each item on this checklist, specific reasons for your response will come to mind—people, events, circumstances, disappointments, problems and frustrations.  The key to stress management lies in your ability to go beyond these negatives. 

Rank the stressors on the list in terms of severity.  Try four groupings with five items in each.  Give an "A" rating to the five you consider to be causing the most stress.  Give a "B" to the five factors which are next in importance .  Give a "C" to the next five factors .  Give a "D" to the last five factors which are the least important stressors now. 

Step III--The Barriers

Now you are ready to think through the barriers to progress.  Suppose  you put time pressures (such as items 2,4,8,10,15,16,17 and 20) in your A group.  Answer these questions about each item:

Why is this important?

What are its causes?

Can I solve it alone?

If not, who can I get to help?

What must I do first?

When will I begin?

How will I monitor progress?

Step IV--The Plan of Action

Now you have the beginning of a Personal Stress Management Plan. While there are no all-inclusive, guaranteed techniques to alleviate stress, a number of practical, commonsense guides can help you bring stressors under control.

  Ventilate the problem to a confidant.  This tends to broaden perspectives and unclutter your mind, so you can arrive at a sensible course of action.  Select someone you can trust, who is not only an excellent listener but will also keep your confidence.

  Find someone worse off.  Not every situation is life-or-death.  Don't worry about the little things.  Visit a hospital or nursing home to see first-hand how small your problems really are.  You will not only live longer, but you will solve more problems faster and with better results.

  Focus on positive consequences.  Convince yourself that you can make use of the stressful event in your personal development.  For example, "Now I realize that I must never get myself in this kind of a situation with the CEO again."  This will not only help you grow, but it will reduce the after-effects of the stress.  As the old saying goes, anything that doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

  Don't wait too long.  If the stress is severe enough to bother you, do something.  Chances are that waiting won't make it any better.  In fact, delays on your part are likely to increase the pain. 

  Take charge.  Put yourself in a position to divert or stop the stressor.  If you are convinced that one of your key researchers is no longer qualified for the job, select someone else.  You will probably feel less stressed after doing this.  If you must make an important presentation, prepare for it.  If you have something to get off your chest, do it soon. 

  Congratulate yourself.  When you've been eyeball-to-eyeball with a stressful event and faced it down, take credit.  Not only has your skill brought it under control, but you can now take on other stressors with more confidence. 

Many people can bounce back from stress without too much difficulty.  They survive and succeed because of their overall positive attitude.  No matter how bleak things look, they maintain an optimistic inner spirit that helps them surmount obstacles.  These people refuse to acknowledge defeat--to them defeats are merely temporary setbacks.

Step V—Making your plan work

To deal with each stressor adequately, you should evaluate its frequency, severity and net effect.  To put your analysis in focus, you should record and track your commitments to action. 

When stress caused by this one particular stressor has been eliminated or brought under control, take on the others you have identified in order of their priority.

By and large, stress results from facing the unknown consequences of change.  For vice presidents, directors, and managers of R&D, change is inevitable.  Stress ebbs and flows in direct relationship to your overall sense of adequacy.  The best leaders find ways to complement their individual abilities with their colleagues’ strengths.  When this happens, they not only position their organizations for growth, they reduce stress as well.

Above all, remember that coping with stress is personal, only you can do it for yourself.

Stressful circumstances reveal the true nature of your leadership.  Little by little, you either grow stronger or weaker, until one day a crisis reveals what you have already become.

If you're at the top, you can never totally eradicate stressful situations.  But you can find ways to minimize their impact.  In so doing, you will maintain your effectiveness as an R&D leader.

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