This is a guest post from Patrick Ward, Director of Research and Development for the Seattle Seahawks. It has been adapted somewhat for the target audience of this publication.
One of the hardest things as a manager is understanding that stress, regardless if it is work stress or life stress, is all part of the same systemic process.
The body is like any other ecosystem in nature – it is influenced by and has to adapt to many different forms of change and stress. Like a nice, lush river, if we pollute the water, the fish and vegetation begin to die. Then, everything that relies on the water for hydration, the vegetation and the animals that rely on that vegetation, and the animals that rely on the fish for food are all negatively impacted.
Many things influence the ecosystem of the body:
In a very general sense we can group these stressors into specific and non-specific categories.
Specific stressors are those that we (as managers, leaders, coaches, etc.) have control over. Things like work schedule, OKR's and goals, job training and education, and company culture. We directly apply stress to the individual in these situations and hope to see a favorable change. (company growth or athlete performance)
Non-specific stressors are those that we have much less control over – Things like life stress, sleep, nutrition, relationships, lifestyle, etc.
It goes without saying that the more we can control non-specific stressors the better results we can get – in either our people team or sports teams.
While we may have less control over their non-specific stressors we may still be able to influence them or at the very least educate our athletes/employees about what they should be doing, and the direct impact that what they do outside of the training/work environment will have on performance. Of course, as they say, “you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him drink”. Some athletes/employees are just going to be non-compliant.
I tend look at both specific and non-specific stressors as a bank account.
In your bank you have a checking account and a savings account. You cannot withdraw maximally from both accounts without going into the red and ending up broke. In life we have our stress accounts, and similar to our checking and savings accounts, we cannot withdraw maximally from our specific and non-specific stress accounts without going into the red and ending up broken.
The idea is to attempt to balance these two accounts and not hack away at the body’s ability to adapt by negatively impacting its stress resistance.
If you are withdrawing a significant amount from your non-specific stress account then you must alter your specific stress account – less time at work, more autonomy-less micromanaging, decreased goals, etc. – to reflect this. If you simply attempt to "scale at all costs" (like you normally would) during this period of compromised stress resistance and adaptation you run the risk of burning your people out, and increasing the risk of staff turnover.
If your teams are doing all the right things with regard to maintaining their non-specific stress account – eating well, hydrating properly, getting restful sleep, have good time management, keep a healthy lifestyle, and have good coping strategies for the other stress in your life – then you can go ahead and withdraw more maximally from your specific account by pushing harder and/or more frequently because your body has the ability to focus all of its efforts on resisting that specific stress and allowing you to optimally adapt.
What sets some of the best athletes apart from others is their ability to do all the little things right. It isn’t easy trying to manage your stress accounts, and sometimes that non-specific account can plummet. The key as a manager, is to recognize when this is happening and make the necessary adjustments to work demands.
I understand that most leaders - especially sales leaders - want to go hard all the time and feel that if they are not "grinding" then they got nothing out of it. However, it is more important to find the necessary amount of stress you need in order to get the result you want without having to trash the body and constantly beat it down. It is critical to understand the stress accounts, be honest with yourself (and your people team,), and understand that growth is a long process. Keeping your team management strategy flexible to allow for changes when things in life pop up is essential.