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Leadership Development

Step-by-Step Guide for Managing Stress as a Leader


Leaders are faced with challenges from every level of their organization – there’s the overwhelming sensation of deadlines, co-worker tension, performance expectations, shifting priorities, work overload, and having the responsibility of leading a team, to name a few. Although your stressors may be different from a colleague’s, these occupational pressures lead to high-stress levels for all leaders. Regardless of your stressors, you’ll need to find ways to manage the impact of your stress and still be an effective leader. Once you can manage your stress, you can learn how to manage your team members’ stress, leading to higher engagement, morale, and performance. The impact of having a more engaged team will in-and-of-itself reduce the number of stressors popping up, increasing productivity all around.

Stress in the workplace often impacts relationships and can take an emotional and physical toll. According to a survey conducted by The American Institute of Stress in 1999, the number of hours worked increased by 8 percent to an average of 47 hours a week with 20 percent of individuals working 49 hours a week. Each generation continues to work longer and harder. It is important that employers train leaders on how to manage stress and conflict, as well as ensuring their needs are being met to promote job satisfaction, which leads to productivity.

Stress at Work 

According to a 2018 survey by the American Psychological Association, 64% of American adults suffer from work-related stress. With job pressure being a top cause of stress in the United States, it is easy for tension and conflict to arise between yourself and a colleague or manager, resulting in a strain that distracts employees from focusing on the bottom-line. To exaggerate this stress further, it also impacts other team members who are inevitably affected by the tension around them.

It costs employers $300 billion annually in stress-related health care and missed work, which makes sense when 33 percent of people live with extreme stress in their everyday lives, according to the same survey. A 1997 study conducted by a large corporation found that 60% of employee absences could be traced to job stress. To combat this stress, leaders must discover the right coping mechanisms for our unique personality, when we fall into our stress mode. Stress occurs when pressures or demands get out of hand, forcing you to react when things happen outside of your comfort zone. Gone unmanaged, stress is uncomfortable and unproductive, but when individuals learn how to manage their triggers of stress, they can change the impact it has on their health and lives.

On a personality level, if you are someone who needs structure and processes put into place within your role and you are not receiving that, you may become over-insistent on rules and resist change. Leaders who prefer more flexibility might have the opposite reaction when they experience a less-than-ideal work environment. But how can you determine your stressors? By identifying your expectations (Birkman Needs) and ensuring they are met.

Understand Your Different Stressors

Stress is our reaction when the world around us doesn’t operate as we think it should – when our Needs are not being met. Therefore, different personalities react differently to stress because our expectations of our workplace environment differ from person to person. Let’s walk through three steps to understanding your stress triggers to combat your stress reactions.

1. Stressors. Start by identifying what is causing your stress. Is an employee not listening to feedback? Are you experiencing miscommunication? Is there conflict in the workplace? Are you working increasingly longer work hours? Most likely, you will realize there are multiple areas of your work life, creating tension.

2. Stress Indicators. Next, recognize your stress indicators. Does your heart rate accelerate? Do you become more impatient? For some, it’s natural to withdraw when under stress, while others tend to become more vocal and animated. Recognizing your natural tendencies is crucial to making changes to your stress reaction.

3. Needs. Finally, learn and understand what your unique Needs are. Do you need a quiet environment with room to think, or do you prefer a collaborative team? Do you prefer blunt, direct conversations with coworkers, or are you more productive when others use a more suggesting approach? Once you know what you need, or expect, from your environment, you can recognize that it’s when these Needs are not being met that you immediately go into your stress mode.

Once you attain awareness of your needs, the stressors causing tension, and how you react when those needs aren’t met, you can start to take action!

Our Stress Behavior Workshop will help you gain a deeper understanding of your stressors and blind spots. This workshop was created to empower you with resources for yourself and your team to help you discover your sources of stress, stress behavior, how to get your needs met, coping techniques, and how you can increase your self-awareness. Self-awareness is challenging to practice, especially when under stress. However, by knowing your behavior and needs, you can learn how to leverage your good behavior, acknowledge stress triggers and reactions, and curb bad behavior.

Manage Stress Before It Manages You

To increase productivity and reduce burnout, you must learn how to be an effective leader by managing your stress. Your emotional intelligence, knowing and understanding your emotions, is an essential trait of all good leaders – and ultimately the key to keeping your stress under control. When you can recognize the presence and causes of stress, you can be more productive and curb your negative behavior that begins to arise. Manage your stress by fulfilling your needs and leaning on productive behaviors. The same person who may be withdrawn when in their stress behavior may need to focus on being more direct, mitigating the unproductive behaviors associated with stress-related introversion. The Birkman Method is the only personality assessment that measures a person’s underlying Needs that drive positive behavior. At Birkman, Needs are your social expectations, while stress is the unproductive behavior that comes out when your Needs aren’t being met, and each person is different – your stress behavior may be your colleague’s usual behavior and strength.

Once you understand where your stress comes from, you can choose to prevent those situations from occurring, or at least be aware of your natural tendency under stress, to try to have an alternate path ready to choose from. Use the self-awareness you gain in exploring your stressors and stress behaviors to make a game plan to know what to expect when stress does come and how to tackle it when it does.

Keep in mind that stress can also cause burnout. Remember to incorporate your interests and passions into your workplace environment. What motivates you? How can you put meaning back into work? Identify your interests so that you can connect them with your real-life workplace situations. In return, you will stay energized at work by being able to prioritize daily tasks by focusing on your interests, whether those are task or people-oriented.

Stress also affects your team dynamic. The American Medical Association says that staying connected to your team members through collaboration allows you to better deal with stress. It’s important to note that not everyone has all the answers, including leaders. Trusted colleagues help you work through your challenges, and often provide you with valuable input when you can’t find the answers.

How Strategic Positioning Can Help:

We know that the ability to manage stress has essential consequences in our professional and personal lives. For over 30 years SPI has been using the Birkman Method and other tools to provide our clients with strategies  to manage stress, along with stress management techniques and how to stay motivated. The Birkman Assessment can address what most assessments miss. Birkman uncovers the hidden social perception that leaders expect from their workplace environment to help you thrive. Our programs provide you with insight into how you are likely to respond at your best and how you will react under stress in the workplace. The Stress Management report specifically targets better self-management. Since few of us take the time to acknowledge or articulate our own needs, we may especially react to unmet needs in interpersonal relationships, schedules and details, and decision making. This report offers information to help you manage your own individual Needs and to avoid areas of potential stress more easily.  Contact us to see how we can support you and your organization.  info@strategicpositioninginc.com



How to Support Your Virtual Employees For Success

Volatile. Uncertain. Complex. Ambiguous. VUCA means that nothing about how we lead today is the way we are used to–and tomorrow, it will be different again. We are committed to help you with everything from navigating virtual teams, to learning how to manage stress, and even continuing your learning online. SPI is here to empower you to empower your people and performance, when we all need it the most

The work-at-home crowd is constantly growing, especially in recent times due to COVID-19. This puts a different sort of stress on leaders like you and even after the present crisis has passed. More and more companies were offering their employees the chance to work remotely a few days a week or hiring people across the globe who work remotely 100% of the time. Given the experience of many organizations during this crisis, this will probably accelerate in the future.

Global Workplace Analytics notes the remote workforce of non-self-employed individuals has grown by 103 percent since 2005. Nearly 3 percent of the total workforce – or 3.7 million employees – now work from home at least half the time. The low facility costs, broad range of possible, higher qualified employees, and more productive business models have made working from home not just an option, but an opportunity for companies all over. 

If your company is working remotely right now or has a work-from-home policy, you’ll have a stronger remote workforce if you help employees feel engaged in their new virtual reality. Here are just a few tips on how to boost employee engagement and reduce your and their stress, when your employees are outside of the office.

Accelerate Engagement 

Virtual employees and teams often fail because of lack of engagement and miscommunication. However, team messaging applications and video conferencing platforms can be very easily implemented and can help in both areas.

Video conferencing helps bring virtual teams together and aids in making remote workers feel more emotionally connected to their colleagues. This can increase connection within the team, despite not being in the same place. Another easy but effective tip is to start conversations or meetings with something you know the person is interested in. If you know they love to garden, ask them about their flowers and plants, if you know they have creative passions, ask them what they've been crafting lately. People love to talk about their interests and the things they enjoy; this not only will make them feel good but will help you feel engaged and connected to them. As a leader, reviewing their Birkman Interests may give you some insight.

Mitigate Miscommunication

In terms of miscommunication, a lack of in-person interaction limits social cues, which may lead to misunderstandings and conflict, since how we communicate is much more than what we say. As a way to mitigate this problem, be sure to turn on video so people can also see body language and facial expressions, especially during creative or brainstorming meetings. 

Set aside time for one-on-one meetings or small team meetings with your remote workers on a daily or weekly basis. These meetings can be the ideal time to discuss successes, provide feedback (because that's important for remote workers, too!), specific project blockers, and general office happenings. According to Forbes, a healthy communication environment "involves setting up communication channels employees can use to collaborate, build community, recognize one another and provide candid feedback without fear of repercussion or exposure."

It can also help to understand each remote worker's communication preferences based on their personality. A few things to think about next time you communicate an important message to a remote employee are:

· Do they respond best to practical and tactical communications, or when you address the emotional side of issues too?

· Do they prefer you be candid with them, or take a more personal, sensitive approach?

· Do they want to know the details, or prefer you lead with the big picture?

· Do they like when you talk with them one-on-one or prefer to have group discussions?

We have a manager worksheet to help with that. Contact us for a copy. jblanchard@strategicpositioninginc.com

Create a Company Culture in the Cloud

It’s easy for a remote employee to miss the fun workday banter that happens throughout the day in the office environment. It’s also easy to forget to loop them in on last-minute meetings, team outings, or even bigger announcements that pertain to the entire company. Company culture is one of the most vital elements of your organization, and it’s also one of the most important things virtual employees can miss. Since remote workers are off on their own, they typically miss out on the on-site company perks. Technology is beneficial for keeping remote workers connected, but sometimes it's great to have bonding sessions.

Consider some of the following ways to create a company culture outside of the four office walls:

· Virtual happy hours or remote coffee sessions: Schedule after-work happy hour hangouts or coffee gatherings in-person or online. This gives employees a chance to catch up outside of work and connect on a personal level. 

· Birthday celebrations: Send remote employees a card, or even a cake, as you would for your on-site employees. Birthdays are an important day that is often forgotten, especially for remote workers. 

· In-office parties: Conference in the remote employees so they can take part in the celebration for holidays, sports events, or even to celebrate a company success.

· Awards and recognition: Recognizing employee achievements for workers both in and outside of the office is a great way to boost morale and show appreciation during company-wide meetings.

· Virtual workshops: Unite virtual teams with a virtual team building workshop to increase motivation and results. SPI has team development and coaching programs that allow remote, in-tact teams to work together to create purpose, clarity, and psychological safety (often, these can be more complex for virtual teams).

These get-to-know-you activities and virtual team building sessions are crucial to employee engagement and your organization's culture. Whether your company’s remote employees are in the next state or even the next country, there’s no reason they can’t enjoy the same sense of importance and belonging as your on-site employees. That sense of belonging can come from regular communication, on-site visits, advanced technology, and being up close and personal with your company culture and perks. Keeping all of these aspects intact with some effort and tools like Birkman can provide a productive and understanding work environment that is no different than between on-site employees. 

Leverage Birkman to Strengthen Your Remote Workforce

Workshops and assessments like Birkman can help bridge this gap and contribute to building a more cohesive workforce. Birkman illuminates your team member’s needs, how they typically behave, stressors, and interests so you can promote an environment where coworkers are aware of each other’s tendencies and can act according to those needs to encourage a positive and understanding atmosphere, even virtually. As a leader there are also several tools to allow understand how best to motivate and lead in a VUCA environment. SPI will be pleased to coach you in the use of this information.

For information on how to make a virtual employee feel involved, or hosting a virtual team workshop, please contact us. jblanchard@strategicpositioninginc.com

Content from Amelia Smith, Birkman International.



Self Awareness

Even though self-awareness — knowing who we are and how we’re seen — is important for job performance, career success, and leadership effectiveness, it’s in remarkably short supply in today’s workplace. In our nearly five-year research program on the subject, we’ve discovered that although 95% of people think they’re self-aware, only 10 to 15% actually are.

At the office, we don’t have to look far to find unaware colleagues — people who, despite past successes, solid qualifications, or irrefutable intelligence, display a complete lack of insight into how they are coming across. In a survey we conducted with 467 working adults in the U.S. across several industries, 99% reported working with at least one such person, and nearly half worked with at least four. Peers were the most frequent offenders (with 73% of respondents reporting at least one unaware peer), followed by direct reports (33%), bosses (32%), and clients (16%).

Un-self-aware colleagues aren’t just frustrating; they can cut a team’s chances of success in half. According to our research, other consequences of working with unaware colleagues include increased stress, decreased motivation, and a greater likelihood of leaving one’s job.

So how do we deal with these situations? Is it possible to help the unaware see themselves more clearly? And if we can’t, what can we do to minimize their damage on our success and happiness?

Understanding the problem

Not all badly-behaving colleagues suffer from a lack of self-awareness, and not all who do can be helped. Therefore, you must first determine whether the source of the problem is truly someone’s lack of self-awareness. Ask yourself:

What’s behind the tension?

When we’re having trouble working with someone, the problem isn’t always a lack of self-awareness on their part. Interpersonal conflict can arise from different priorities, incompatible communication styles, or a lack of trust.

To determine whether you’re truly dealing with an un-self-aware person, consider how others around them feel. Typically, if someone is unaware, there’s a consensus about their behavior (i.e., it won’t just be you). More specifically, we’ve found several consistent behaviors of un-self-aware individuals:

· They won’t listen to, or accept, critical feedback.

· They cannot empathize with, or take the perspective of, others.

· They have difficulty “reading a room” and tailoring their message to their audience.

· They possess an inflated opinion of their contributions and performance.

· They are hurtful to others without realizing it.

· They take credit for successes and blame others for failures.

Where is this person coming from?

In contrast to the unaware, certain difficult colleagues—like office jerks—know exactly what they’re doing, but aren’t willing to change.

I once knew a chief operating officer with a reputation for humiliating his team whenever they disappointed him. When finally confronted about his behavior, his response was, “The best management tool is fear. If they fear you, they will get the work done.” (Unsurprisingly, his superiors did not share his views and fired him several months later).

The biggest difference between the unaware and the Aware-Don’t-Care are their intentions: the unaware genuinely want to be collaborative and effective, but don’t know they’re falling short. Whereas the “aware don’t care” unapologetically acknowledge their behavior (“Of course I’m pushy with clients. It’s the only way to make the sale!”), the unaware can’t see how they’re showing up (“That client meeting went well!”).

Helping the unaware

Once you’ve determined someone suffers from a lack of self-awareness, it’s time to honestly assess whether they can be helped. Think about their intentions and whether they’d want to change. Have you seen them ask for a different perspective or welcome critical feedback? This suggests that it’s possible to help them become more self-aware.

But the odds can be steep. Our survey found that although 70% of people with unaware colleagues have tried to help them improve, only 31% were successful or very successful. And among those who decided not to help, only 21% said they regretted their decision. So before you step in, ask yourself:

Am I the right messenger?

The number one reason our survey respondents gave for not helping an unaware person was that they didn’t think they were the right messenger. It’s true that when helping the unaware, providing good, constructive feedback only gets us part of the way. For someone to truly be open to critical feedback, they must trust us — they must fundamentally believe that we have their best interests at heart. When trust is present, the other person will feel more comfortable being vulnerable, a prerequisite to accept one’s unaware behavior.

So think about the relationship you have with your unaware colleague: have you gone out of your way to help or support them in the past? And are you confident they will see your feedback for what it is—a show of support to help them get better—rather than inferring a more nefarious motive? Or, are there others who might be better suited to deliver the feedback than you?

Am I willing to accept the worst-case scenario?

The second most common reason people decide not to help the unaware is that the risk is simply too high. As one of our study participants noted, “I may not be able to help and trying [might] just make them angry.” The consequences of help-gone-awry can range from uncomfortable (tears, the silent treatment, yelling) to career limiting (an employee might quit; a colleague may try to sabotage us; a boss could fire us).

Here, power differentials are a factor. For example, though unaware bosses have an especially detrimental impact on their employees’ job satisfaction, performance, and well-being, confronting one’s boss is inherently riskier because of the positional power she holds. Conversely, the risk is usually lower with peers, and lower still with direct reports (in fact, if you have an unaware employee, it is literally your job to help them). But regardless of their place on the organizational chart, we must be ready to accept the worst-case scenario should it occur.

If you believe you can help, then what’s the best way to do so? There are certainly many helpful resources on providing high-quality feedback, and most apply with the unaware. There are, however, three practices worth underscoring for these individuals.

First, talk to them in person (our research suggests those who provide feedback via email are 33% less successful). Second, instead of bringing up their behavior out of the blue, practice strategic patience. If possible, wait until your colleague expresses feelings of frustration or dissatisfaction that (unbeknownst to them) are being caused by their unawareness. Ask if you can offer an observation in the spirit of their success and wellbeing (using the word “feedback” risks defensiveness). Third, if they agree, focus on their specific, observable behavior and how it’s limiting their success. End the conversation by reaffirming your support and asking how you can help.

What to do if they don’t change

It’s easy to feel hopeless when you can’t help someone who is unaware. The good news is that although we can’t force insight on them, we can minimize their impact on us.

Mindfully reframe their behavior: The popular workplace practice of mindfulness can be an effective tool for dealing with the unaware. Specifically, noticing what we’re feeling in a given moment allows us to reframe the situation and be more resilient.

Here is one tool to notice but not get drawn in to our negative reactions to the unaware. I first came up with the “laugh track” when I had the misfortune of work­ing for an Aware-Don’t-Care boss. One day, after a particularly unpleas­ant encounter, I recalled my favorite TV show growing up, The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Mary’s boss was a surly man named Lou Grant. On a good day, Lou was grumpy; on a bad day, he was downright abusive. But because his comments were followed by a canned laugh track, they became surprisingly endearing. I de­cided that the next time my boss said something horrible, I’d imagine a laugh track behind it instead. I was frequently surprised at how much less hurtful (and occasionally hilarious) this tool rendered him.

Find their humanity: As easy as it can be to forget, even the most unaware among us are still human. If we remember this, instead of flying off the handle when they’re behaving badly, we can recognize that, at the core, their unaware behavior is a sign that they are struggling. We can adopt the mindset of compassion without judgment.

Researchers have found that honing our compassion skills helps us remain calm in the face of difficult people and situations. As management professor Hooria Jazaieri points out, “there are [negative] consequences…when we are…thinking bad thoughts about someone” — compassion “allows us to let them go.”

Play the long game: When it comes to dealing with the unaware, one of the most important things to remember is that just because they’re that way now doesn’t mean they won’t change in the future. Unaware behaviors sometimes have to be pointed out multiple times before the feedback begins to stick — or, as one of our research participants noted, “Sometimes they have to bump their head enough times to finally see the light.”

In our research, we’ve studied people who made dramatic, transformational improvements in their self-awareness. Though it takes courage, commitment, and humility, it is indeed possible—and whether or not the people around us choose to improve their self-awareness, we have complete control over the choice to improve ours (find a quick, high-level assessment of your self-awareness here). At the end of the day, perhaps that’s where our energy is best spent.


Tasha Eurich, PhD, is an organizational psychologist, researcher, and New York Times bestselling author


Books to Read

The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni

Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business.

While you are locked down.

Differences and Similarities. WHo is in your bubble?


I am sure there are families farther-flung than us, but we have son and daughter in law in Baltimore (lockdown and she is a Doctor at Johns Hopkins on the front line), son and daughter in law and two adult grandsons in California (lockdown. Even so, we all (but one) managed to get on a zoom video conference on Sunday, and I can see we will be doing lots more. Conveniently, we only cover three time zones. So what are you finding hard about lockdown? Your Birkman can help! Just look at the Map in your Birkman Profile.  To keep this simple, we just want to look at the Circle (your Needs). Why we focus here is that (amongst other things) Needs helps us understand what you will find 'normal', at least unconsciously.

Look where your Circle is, horizontally (left or right). The further to the left you are, the more you expect to have plenty to do and an objective environment in which to do it. The further to the right you are, the more you expect to have plenty of people to interact with, and an environment in which it is okay for everyone to say how they feel.

At this point, if you have them, you might want to check the Map of the people in your bubble. If you don’t, contact us and we can arrange it at minimal cost.

You have looked at the horizontal component of Needs on the Map/Grid. What about the vertical?

Top of the Map is about thinking enthusiasm and direct engagement is normal; bottom of the Map is about thinking that, well, thinking is normal, and therefore a more reflective and distanced approach to problems and situations.

So how is that going to play in the lockdown bubble you are in? It depends - have a look at your own and everyone else's Needs (the Circle). Top or Bottom of the Map?

A lack of enthusiasm and interaction will be really hard for top of the Map folks. Even if you are low on the Map, it is time to cheer these folks on. Of course, your Need may then be to have time to think about things before you commit (to repainting the kitchen, for example, or setting up a zoom call with all 230 relatives). But if you can say "that's brilliant, let's do it, just give me a little time to think about how we can do that best" instead of just saying "no" as a defensive move, you will really help.

And top of the Map person, cut some thinking time for your low on the Map bubble-mates. Tell them your great thought, ask them to think about it and improve on it, and "maybe we could talk tomorrow?"

So check what everyone else in your bubble (if any) are expecting. Being locked down has challenges for everyone.

If you think "having plenty to do and being objective" is normal (Red or Yellow Needs), then stop watching the news; it is a feelings fest and you don't need that. Find a project or two that you can do with the resources to hand, or easily obtainable.

If on the other hand, you think having plenty of people to interact with, or at least to share your feelings with, is normal (Green and Blue Needs), then leverage what you can outside of your bubble. (I say that so that if you have Red or Yellow Needs people in your bubble, you don't drive them mad by focusing all your People Needs on them!) Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp video calls, so you see people, not just write them notes. Have conversations out the window with people who pass or shout out to the people on other balconies near you. Yes, sing or play your saxophone to the neighbors.

And now - have a conversation with everyone in your bubble about your Needs scores. Talk about what you are each finding annoying even if you can't yet work out why. You can help each other understand what is going on, and cut one another some slack