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4 Ways For Leaders To Shift From Stress To “Flow”

May 6, 2023

As a leadership expert, I understand the challenges that leaders face in these disruptive and fast-changing times.

The pace of change can be overwhelming, and the pressure to adapt and succeed can create a great deal of stress.

However, I firmly believe that stress can be converted into positive solutions that benefit both leaders and their teams.

In this article, I’ll share four practical ideas on how leaders can shift from stress to “flow”.

When we are in the reactive phase of stress it feels terrible, we may vibrate with anger or frustration.

When we are in the reaction phase of stress we can blame people or situations for our stress.

This is normal, AND we want to shift as quickly as we can from the reaction phase of stress into the positive change that stress is asking us to make.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi a renowned psychologist has extensively studied the relationship between flow and stress.

According to Csikszentmihalyi, flow is a state that can be achieved when a person is facing a challenge that is just beyond their current level of ability.

When a person is in flow, they experience a sense of control over the situation, which can help to reduce stress and anxiety.

Csikszentmihalyi has also discussed the idea of “positive stress,” which is the stress that comes from engaging in activities that are challenging but rewarding.

Positive stress can be a motivating force that drives a person to seek out new challenges and experiences.

According to Csikszentmihalyi, people who are able to find a balance between challenge and skill in their activities are more likely to experience flow and positive stress.

The key element to flow is that we shift our focus to what we can control.

We can control how we see the changes that are creating our stress and we can control how we ask for what we need.

Here are 4 ways for leaders to shift from ‘stress’ to ‘flow’:

  1. Embrace Change as an Opportunity

One of the primary sources of stress for leaders is the constant change that we are all experiencing. From technological advancements to changes in the competitive landscape, it can be challenging to keep up with the pace of change. Add to that the personal stress that we all have in our lives.

However, rather than viewing change as a threat, leaders can reframe their mindset to see it as an opportunity.

Instead of resisting change, leaders can embrace it and view it as a chance to innovate and improve their business. By approaching change with a growth mindset, leaders can inspire their teams to do the same, creating a culture that is agile and adaptable. When faced with a challenge, leaders can ask themselves, “What is the opportunity here?” and use that question to guide their thinking and decision-making.

It’s helpful to think of stress as a message from our best version of ourselves “that something HAS to change”.

Recently, I experienced this in my own life where I was having immense stress with a business situation and I was frustrated by the actions of people on my team.

I recognized that I was stressed and that had a stress reaction – after some time of taking a step back and looking at the whole situation I asked myself, ‘what has to change?’.

What came to me was that in the situation I was facing was that I/we had not set clear expectations in place for a specific situation.

I reached out to the team, apologized for my stress response and shared the policy/expectations we need moving forward.

With their input we then went ahead and set the policy in place and stress was mitigated.

  1. Practice Mindfulness and Self-Care

Another practical idea for converting stress into positive solutions is to prioritize mindfulness and self-care. Leaders are often so focused on their responsibilities that they neglect their own well-being. However, taking care of oneself is crucial for effective leadership.

Practicing mindfulness, such as meditation or deep breathing, can help leaders reduce stress and increase their focus and clarity. Similarly, prioritizing self-care activities, such as exercise or spending time in nature, can help leaders recharge their batteries and maintain a positive outlook.

By prioritizing their own well-being, leaders can lead by example and inspire their teams to do the same. When leaders model healthy habits, their teams are more likely to adopt them, creating a culture of well-being.

Again in my own personal situation the stressful situation I described above was exacerbated by the fact that I had been off of my self care schedule due to travel, workload and commitments.

It was a very busy cycle and it made me realize that even in busiest cycles I am much better equipped to deal with stress when I prioritize my own well being.

  1. Foster Open Communication and Collaboration

Stress can often be exacerbated by a lack of communication or collaboration. When teams are not aligned or working towards a common goal, it can create tension and anxiety. However, leaders can convert stress into positive solutions by fostering open communication and collaboration.

By creating a culture of transparency and collaboration, leaders can encourage their teams to share ideas, feedback, and concerns openly. This can lead to more creative problem-solving and more effective decision-making. When team members feel heard and valued, they are more likely to be engaged and motivated, reducing the stress that comes from feeling disconnected.

One way of ensuring consistent open communication is to stay on top of having one on ones with your team members and colleagues. Since hybrid workplace has been the predominant way to working more leaders are frustrated by a sense of lack of teamwork. Hybrid workplace environments require focused intention on ensuring weekly touch bases with all team members and colleagues to ensure open lines of communication.

Busyness and stress go hand in hand. It’s helpful to take a step back and relook at our priorities and focus on fostering relationships.

Open communication and collaboration also helps to ask for what we need and to prioritize and redistribute work or duties among the team.

  1. Set Realistic Expectations and Priorities

Finally, leaders can convert stress into positive solutions by setting realistic expectations and priorities. In today’s fast-paced world, it can be tempting to try to do everything at once. However, this can lead to burnout and increased stress levels.

Instead, leaders should prioritize their goals and focus on the most critical tasks. By setting clear priorities, leaders can ensure that their teams are working towards the same objectives, reducing confusion and anxiety. Similarly, setting realistic expectations for themselves and their teams can help leaders avoid feeling overwhelmed and stressed.

When we set realistic goals for ourselves it helps to set the expectations of what we can and cannot do.

As leaders we need to help our teams to set their own realistic expectations as well.

Focusing on priorities and expectations is another example of focusing on what we can control.

It can be easy when stressed to blame others or the situation and we are all human. AND it’s much more helpful to focus on what we can learn and what needs to change.

In these disruptive and fast-changing times, stress is a common experience for leaders it is critical that we build resiliency in dealing with stress as the pace of change is going to continue to accelerate.


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