There are times when I agree to fulfill some request and then quickly realize I have overcommitted myself. I have done this so many times over the years that I must like it this way at some level. Most recently, I agreed to give a talk to a group of healthcare executives on Stress in the Workplace, which is ironic because the event has put a lot of stress on me that I could have avoided if I just said I was too busy.
Nevertheless, the topic interested me. I know that, for me, public speaking is good stress. It keeps me motivated and interested in life. Much of the stress in life isnt so positive, of course. It is critical for anyone in an executive position to understand the difference. So many managers today dont recognize when they are stressing out their workers. Often they will lay out unrealistic goals without realizing that in so doing they are causing people to panic, freeze or do a less than professional job.
Many of the most stressed workers are found employed by our nations healthcare providers. A nurse who is given an unrealistic number of patients to attend to isnt able to give her patients the kind of attention they deserve and need. Physicians overschedule themselves for economic reasons and end up shortchanging their real lifebloodtheir patients.
As I prepared my talk, I asked some friends of mine who are healthcare executives, nurses, physicians, administrative assistants and others about stress and what it does to them. One person told me that the backbiting and politics in his office is so bad that he now thinks of his work as simply a job and not something he relishes and looks forward to. This is a common theme among these people. They want to be valued and treated fairly and with respect. Everybody needs encouragement and nurturing regardless of how far they have climbed the ladder of success.
Another problem is when the boss of a department or company doesnt lay out a clear-cut vision of what goals are to be attained or even to make sure everyone knows what their jobs are. Go ahead and ask some of your colleagues what their jobs entail and youll be amazed at some of the comments you will receive. Bosses need to ensure that their staff members fit into the game plan.
But worst of all is the boss who doesnt care to lead, the ivory-tower guy who doesnt want to dirty his hands by getting into the trenches with his people. If I told you I have walked into a large urban hospital and asked for the CEO and the person at the reception desk doesnt even recognize the name, you realize immediately there is something terribly wrong. Leaders should be visible and prominent in any positive culture because they set the tone for the whole organization. Yet we still see individuals in the top executive seat who dont have a clue as to what is going on with their people. That is a catastrophe waiting to happenand it usually does.
A great example of someone who should have known better and who should have been right on top of things was the general recently relieved of his command for not being aware of the plight of the wounded soldiers who were billeted in less than wholesome and sanitary conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
One of the things that happens in the absence of inclusive leadership is that organizations fail to operate cohesively. Years ago when I was in basic training in the Army at the beginning of the Korean War, I saw what can happen to a whole battalion of men when theres one eight ball in the outfit. The battalion had been under tremendous stress for a number of weeks because we were all getting ready to ship out to Korea, and the company commander had told us we were to be given a three-day pass for the upcoming weekend. However, one of the soldiers didnt make his bed properly, didnt shine his shoes the day we were inspected and couldnt remember his direct orders when questioned by our first sergeant. Because one individual goofed up, the three-day pass was rescinded, and we were all confined to the base. Think of it, it takes only one goofball to hurt a team or organization, and it happens much too often.
Teamwork is the leaders job. He or she sets the tone and is sensitive to what employees need and are capable of producing in the right circumstances.
The good stress comes when people are prepared for the task ahead and inspired to reach beyond their past limits.