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Don’t sweat the small stuff…at your Peril

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

Russ Gambrel, Sr Consultant Fahrenheit – October 2013

I recently attended the Global Leadership Summit and walked away after two days full-to-brimming with energy and motivation to make a bigger difference in my organization.   GLS has become a global phenomenon and I can’t recommend a better national seminar to which you should devote CE/Training hours in 2014.    It’s simply impossible to attend GLS and not return a better employee and more dynamic leader.    The lineup this year, like every year, was full of A-list ‘celebrity’ speakers like Colin Powell and even Mark Burnett (yes, the guy who unleashed reality television on America).   To many, however, the person who most impressed with her deep understanding of our current business climate was Liz Wiseman.   She is both a contributor to the Harvard Business Review and worked 17 years at Oracle, a number of which were spent as the Vice President of Oracle University.

Mrs. Wiseman immediately grabbed our attention by picking an audience member to help demonstrate the hilarious difference between stress and pressure.    She did so in the context of the Swiss folk hero William Tell.    She noted that in the legend of the ‘apple-shot’, the senior Mr. Tell merely felt pressure…it was the son -standing there like a dope, teeing up the fruit- that felt stress!

My group all nodded while the audience roared with laughter.

I’m stating the obvious when I say that in all situations, stress is good for absolutely nothing.   In your personal life.  In your business life.   It will advance no idea to innovation.  It will never inspire.  It will only serve to straight-up kill your (earmuffs!) before your time. 

The difference between stress and pressure is control.   A person feeling stress has lost control of their situation.   In most cases, they withdraw, they give up and they become less productive.   If you look around your team and see lots of stress, you need to stop and assess what is surely a void in leadership.    And very likely, the root of the problem was the failure of leadership to apply healthy pressure and hold all team members accountable.

Pressure, unlike stress, is a gift from the business Gods.

In business, if you are any good at what you do, pressure is inevitable.  I would even argue that pressure is an essential component for any successful endeavor.   Michael Jordan loved it! It drives execution.  And by extension, there is no worse place for your employees to be than in a low-pressure environment feeling comfortable.    The absence of pressure invariably reduces productivity and increases procrastination.   In turn, procrastination leads to backlog and bottlenecks.  Those things always invite a loss of control and copious levels of stress…further reducing productivity (and the cycle begins!).

It is the responsibility of team leaders to apply pressure without ceasing.   And to all of those who tell you “don’t sweat the small stuff”, ignore them.   Every big problem started as a small problem and small problems are much easier to solve.   Never forget the cautionary tale of Lloyd Braun on SEINFELD:  Serenity now means insanity later. 

Russ joined Fahrenheit in 2012 as a senior business consultant and project manager bringing over 17 years of experience in project leadership, SEC reporting, auditing, accounting, IT systems and internal control design.  Russ is a former controller and university instructor, has served in finance and accounting roles internationally, and has extensive consulting experience in designing and implementing internal control environments, including S-Ox. Russ is a graduate of Baylor University with a BBA in Accounting and is currently completing a Management in Information Systems degree at the University of Maryland.

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