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Impact of executive stress on company performance

22 April 2014   (0 Comments)
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In today’s business environment, executives and senior management face one overwhelming challenge: the need to deal with a staggering amount of complexity. Only those individuals with superior cognitive abilities, able to learn effectively and quickly, are able to deal with the mass of details and the extended future time-scales that make up the executive’s job description.

"I noticed that many executives with the necessary cognitive abilities were still being overwhelmed by the demands of their jobs, and thus underperforming,” says Dr Lloyd Chapman, an experienced executive coach and partner of newly launched consultancy Point One. "Long observation convinced me that stress played a role in causing this performance gap in individuals who had all the qualities needed to do the job.”

Healthy executives, improved company performance

"A better understanding of the link between the physiology of stress and its impact on executive performance is an exciting new tool to help improve company performance,” says Ansie Ramalho, CEO of the Institute of Directors in Southern Africa (IoDSA). "As an organisation, we are dedicated to helping directors and senior executives discharge their functions more effectively on a number of fronts, so an approach that looks at the whole person is one that we broadly welcome.”

Stress: It’s not all in the mind

Chapman’s research led him to conclude that stress should most fruitfully be considered physiologically rather than purely psychologically. Together with his business partner, Dr Gaby Prinsloo, he developed an understanding of the intricate biofeedback mechanisms through which stress affects the heart rate and ultimately the body’s ability to learn effectively.

Executive decisions: Heart overrules head

"To simplify a complex mix of neurological and chemical processes, it’s apparent that when a body experiences too much stress, the functioning of the cerebral cortex is impaired, and thus the ability to learn and make correct decisions is reduced,” Chapman explains. "Breathing and the heart rate, which are inextricably linked, are indicators of the stress to which the body is currently being exposed, and thus the extent to which the thinking ability is compromised.”

Individuals experiencing stress present with irregular heart rates and are physiologically unable to think clearly and make good decisions. And yet, executives routinely find themselves having to take far-reaching decisions at times when they are physiologically incapable of doing so. This is exacerbated in a crisis situation, just the time when good decision-making is most needed. What typically happens is that emotions are heightened and the physiological effects of stress dramatically reduce the executive’s ability to make the right decision.

The solution: Take a deep breath

There is, it appears, a solution. Just as the variability in the heart rate reflects the physiological impact of stress, so controlling that variability can promote the alert calmness that is conducive to effective learning and good decision-making. Chapman says that practical experience shows that deep breathing and controlled heart rate variability does actually enable executives to learn more effectively, and thus to deal with the complexity inherent in their jobs better.

Executives routinely find themselves having to take far-reaching decisions at times when

stress dramatically reduces the executive’s ability to make the right decision.

In today’s business environment, executives and senior management face one overwhelming challenge: the need to deal with a staggering amount of complexity.

Deep breathing and controlled heart rate variability does actually enable executives to learn more effectively, and thus to deal with the complexity inherent in their jobs better.

Spokespeople

Dr Lloyd Chapman, executive coach, Point One consultancy

Dr Gaby Prinsloo, researcher, Point One consultancy

Ansie Ramalho, CEO of the Institute of Directors in Southern Africa

Potential interview questions:

  • What is the number one challenge all executives need to deal with?
  • Is there a link between the physiology of stress and its impact on executive performance, or is stress all on the mind?
  • How can executive stress management improve company performance?
  • If the solution is as simple as you suggest (controlling your heart rate), why are executives not doing this already?

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