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Why being a stressed CEO can be bad for your health and the health of your business

The one person who everyone looks to for leadership is the CEO, so when that person takes an unexpected turn for the worse the reverberations can be felt throughout the business. But workplace stress doesn’t discriminate – it can affect everyone, especially those in a position of charge.

Stress costs British businesses £1.24bn and 105 million lost days each year. It affects 1 in 4 UK workers and according to a study conducted by Harvard and Stanford universities work-related stress levels could result in a 33-year deduction of people’s lifespans. That’s a serious chunk out of anyone’s life.

So what can do done about it?

Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos believes that taking action reduces stress – a la Napoleon’s claim that “There shall be no Alps.” This is a sentiment echoed by the great explorer, Sir Ranulph Fiennes.

He says, “Don’t be put off by all the apparent obstacles. The very act of starting the ball rolling will shift quite a few of them.”

Steve Jobs had an altogether different approach to tackling stress; he practiced a type of meditation that involves sitting and quietly observing. Fellow PC entrepreneur Liu Chuanzhi, founder of Lenovo, has also come to recognise the importance of “me-time”.

Every few weeks, Chuanzhi would take himself off somewhere “to think carefully about my work and how well I was progressing towards my goals” – both professional and personal. This is a vital ingredient to tackling stress for business leaders.

Indeed, Steve Tappin, a management coach who specialises in working with CEO’s, says that the best leaders are able to “achieve balance and happiness outside work, which means the business doesn’t subsume them and they can sustain themselves and stay fresh over time.”

He adds, that: “Top CEOs don’t get stuck in the day-to-day running but instead build a system of the right team and instil the right mindset and performance standards so it can run without them.”

Of course stress is not just being prone to exhaustion and poor health caused by long hours and the constant pressure to pacify key stakeholders which can often lead to burn-out, it can also be positive. Indeed, sometimes the decision to take a certain cause of action – which may have significant business benefits – can also cause stress, albeit in a different form.

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, is a prime example of this. His way to dealing with the dilemma of steering the business in a particular direction is to assume that he has already listened closely to his inner self and to trust his gut. And if his gut says to ignore your fear, then go or it (but he still errs towards ensuring he has some quality alone time first before making the final decision).

Managing stress is a case of striking the right balance between your personal and professional life and having a clear understanding of what you want to get out of them both.

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