The most common stressful situations for managers—and how to react to them

Stress can lead our brains to think in extremes, Ron Carucci, co-founder and managing partner of Navalent, writes in the Harvard Business Review.

He cites research showing that leaders under stress tend to think in binaries, rather than seeing the full range of options. Carucci uses an example of a sales executive who has delegated work. She isn't satisfied by the result, but the only solution she can think of is to revert to doing all the work on her own.   

He identifies four common situations when stress causes leaders to make extreme decisions—and suggests better ways to get out of the situation.

1: Entrusting subordinates with work

Leaders often fret about delegating work because they worry a mistake could make them look bad, Carucci writes. Instead, he recommends investing a little more time in preparing your employees to ensure they are ready for the tasks you delegate to them. He suggests setting clear expectations for the project, what the employee is ready for, and how much input you'll have during the project.

2: Relaying bad news

When it comes to delivering bad news to peers or subordinates, managers tend to either go with a harsh approach or a sugar-coated approach, Carucci writes. But, he argues, there's a middle ground to take as well. Again, he encourages leaders to invest time in preparation.

Carucci recommends writing out what you want to say in clear and non-judgmental language, then delivering it within the first two minutes of the conversation.

3: Making high-stakes decisions

According to Carucci, there are usually two kinds of leaders: those who make decisions based on pure intuition and those who make decisions based substantially on data. But the problem is that both of these types often miss important factors when making a decision: the intuitive leader ignores critical data and the data-driven leader gets overwhelmed by data and never actually makes a decision.

Instead, Carucci recommends finding the middle ground. He also suggests including opinions from key stakeholders and advice from those who've made similar decisions.

4: Tackling a long-running problem

Leaders who are tackling a stubborn problem are often too aggressive about pushing through their ideas—or not aggressive enough, Carucci writes. But one approach can make you seem undemocratic and the other can make you seem unconfident, he argues. As in the other situations, Carucci recommends looking for a middle ground.

Carucci writes that, when sharing your idea, try to blend it with the ideas of others to make it more of a conversation. Ensure the team understands that it's a collaborative effort and try to throw out your own biases in the process. Finally, rate each idea with objective criteria, he recommends (Carucci, Harvard Business Review, 8/29). 

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