Stress Management

Stress and Leadership: How do Leaders Stress? (Client story)

In this article, Laavu's Performance Psychologist Lasse Karjalainen shares a client story: how do leaders and/or other successful people stress – and what can be done to manage stress.

August 16, 2023
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Stress and Leadership: How do Leaders Stress? (Client story)

Stress and leadership: background

Lasse Karjalainen, one of Laavu's Performance Psychologists, has coached around 100 business leaders and founders of fast-growing companies. We asked him how common it is for leaders to struggle with stress. Besides this, Lasses shared a case story in which one of his client’s learnt how to reduce stress. 

You can consume this interview in three (3) ways:

1) READ THIS BLOGPOST

2) LISTEN TO THE PODCAST

3) WATCH A YOUTUBE VIDEO:

Based on Lasse's experience, stress and leadership is a very common combination: at least half of the of leaders he’s met struggle with stress – roughly 50 % of Laavu's clients have stress-related issues. 

"It is quite obvious," Lasse says. "Since most of our clients are in positions including quite a big amount of stressors." 

At the same time, based on his experience, some individuals operating in high-demanding positions don't feel stressed. This is regardless of their jobs – that could seem demanding and even stressful from someone else's perspective. 

Lasse finds this contrast rather interesting. "I guess there are many reasons for this, one being that people differ by nature: some people get stressed easier. Also, their coping strategies might be different."

One client’s story - the starting point

The person behind the story is real, but the details have been changed to protect confidentiality. The person in question is a middle-aged leader of a tech company with around 60 employees. Their family consists of a wife, one child, and a cat.

The client approached Lasse due to the worsening stress symptoms. Even physical, not severe, tho symptoms were involved – something this person wanted to get rid of. For example, the client felt a weight on their chest or couldn't focus on listening to music – something they would typically enjoy in their free time. They felt that stress was blocking their well-being and personal growth. 

For this individual, the very reason to start Laavu Psychological Coaching was to get rid of the unpleasant feelings high stress caused. They wanted to achieve better focus on work as well as home. In other words, this leader wanted to learn how to stress less.

First steps on how to reduce stress


"In this case, the first topic was "how could I be more efficient so that I could have more time". That was the client's way to fix the stress problem. We started with that."

Like Lasse's typical approach, one of the first things was to map out the client's current situation. Lasse and his client could identify "points" where to dig deeper. In this case, Lasse's client's "points" were:

-High self-criticism and self-demanding attitude

-Values

-Certain (harmful) beliefs: (for example: "I have to do this alone. Otherwise, I am not a good leader.”)

"We knew that we needed to concentrate on these topics, but before that, we needed to get a little bit of "air." I mean, the client's timetable was so fully booked, they couldn't concentrate on this kind of thing."

Thus, the first concrete step was to reorganize the client's calendar. What were the must-dos? What could they delegate?

To the roots

Maybe you already guessed the root causes of this individual's stress. The critical question they were struggling with was "am I good enough?" This question, then, led to limiting, harmful beliefs, just as "I have to do this alone. Otherwise, I am not a good leader." That's why they were too hard on themselves.

"Okay, it is important to find the root causes. How can that be done?", one might wonder. Lasse says it isn't easy to put a pin on it afterwards. However, some tips can be shared. Usually, the underlying factors pop up amid conversations: for instance, if the client says" I should" a lot, it can be helpful to ask, "why? And what happens if you won't do it?" In this way, the underlying beliefs can be explored.

Key Learnings 

One key learning for this individual was that they are better as a leader when delegating some of their responsibilities. Additionally, there's no such thing as "I need to do this alone" - no one needs to survive solo.

Finally, the individual noticed that their results were better when they stopped being so self-critical. Demandingness can be a good source of strength – but it's easily misused!

For the situation to improve, Lasse's client had to take some concrete actions. First, they started by delegating more. This impacted then in their time – in a positive matter. Another concrete – and rather interesting step – was that the client learnt to use their family as a resource. They started, for instance, sharing work-related worries with their wife. 

How to reduce stress – 4 steps

To start with, Lasse advises people to take stress seriously. There's plenty of research indicating how harmful long-term stress can be. Then, the following steps can be followed:

  1. Reflect on your situation: what is causing stress for you?
  2. Make a list of all the stressors
  3. Take action: think about what concrete steps you can take to change the situation. 
  4. If you find it's too difficult to do this by yourself, ask for help. 

Not sure of your stress is at a healthy level? Take a Stress Quiz, prepared by our Performance Psychologists. 

TEST IF YOUR STRESS LEVELS ARE AT A HEALTHY LEVEL