It’s International Stress Awareness Week, and the theme this year is emotional management. But if you think that as a tech leader, you can refer stress issues in your team to HR occupational health, you’re missing an integral aspect of the leadership role; looking after yourself and your people. You need to understand your stress levels, as it’s reported that 56% of CTOs suffer from stress-related illnesses. And if you can’t identify and manage your own stress levels, how can you support your people?
What is emotional management?
Emotional management is the awareness of your emotions and feelings and the ability to control them successfully. You might think you have this covered, but emotional management is challenged during difficult and stressful times. It’s not just about awareness; it’s about having complete control of your feelings and thoughts when your values are challenged or impacted by someone else. It’s also about being able to adjust your emotions.
It’s not always easy to control your emotions; they can be unpredictable and are linked to memory. For example, if you’ve had a bad experience in the past and it arises again, your emotional response may be strong, and the urge to cry, shout or run might be at the forefront.
And let’s be clear, your job title or seniority in an organisation does not exclude you from being affected by stress or mental health concerns. Nick Jemetta, Product Coach and Mental Wellbeing Campaigner, has extensive experience dealing with stress and mental well-being. He says, “As humans, we all feel emotions. When we go to work, those emotions don’t disappear – yet many of us are uncomfortable showing emotion at work.”
Why is emotional management important for a tech leader?
As a tech leader, the capacity to be challenged by others is vast. Therefore, how will you help your team if you can’t manage your emotions? James Routledge, Founder of Sanctus and author of Mental Health at Work agrees, “Leaders must support themselves so they can be role models and support for others.”
Routledge adds, “Too many leaders act like martyrs thinking good leadership is putting others first all the time and being a rock for others. Put your own oxygen mask on, put your mental health and well-being first, and that will inspire your team to do the same. Plus, it will mean you create a culture in your team where doing that is the norm.”
What are tech leaders stressed about?
You don’t get to leadership in any business area without overcoming obstacles, competition and, quite simply, without working incredibly hard. However, the challenges don’t stop when you take a CTO or CIO role.
A recent study found that over 1-in-3 tech leaders (39%) report that they are worried or burnt out. 22% of tech leaders said they felt burnt out, and 17% worried they lacked support or resources to do their job. Furthermore, 70% say that the productivity levels of their team have yet to return to the pre-pandemic levels.
In today’s world, the list of a tech leader’s daily concerns can range from keeping up with digital disruption, finding and bringing solutions to issues faster, finding ways to protect against cybercrime, ongoing competition and shortage in the market for engineers, hybrid working and pressure for to make quick decisions.
All these issues can bring stress. And to protect your mental health and succeed as a tech leader, you must find ways to solve problems, deliver to deadlines and satisfy the needs (or demands!) of the CEO and first team.
How do you achieve emotional management in the moment?
There’s no magic wand to give you the emotional management skills you need, but there’s a process which may help you in the moment:
Stop – grab onto your willpower, take a moment and consider your reaction. Then, increase your awareness by looking for signs, thoughts and feelings that trigger complex emotions.
Drop – once you’ve identified the feeling, you need to manage your emotions in the moment. This may be by stopping and walking away to refigure emotions or whatever it takes to help you relax and reduce the intensity.
Process – now’s the time to review what happened and identify and consider your reaction and emotions to the situation. Once you’ve identified these, you can consider where the response came from and why. Only then can you make an informed decision about your actions.
How do you achieve emotional management long term?
Be aware of your emotions – you may not be able to control your response to every given situation, but an awareness of your emotional triggers and how you have reacted in the past can help you with emotional management.
Jemetta says, “Emotions connect us with ourselves and with others. When our emotions aren’t in balance or aren’t being managed, we’ll feel an internal disconnect which will impact our relationships at work. When we balance and manage our emotions, we feel connected, happy and stable. We’ll be more productive and will do a far better job of building relationships.”
Leadership Coaching – “I believe coaching for managers and leaders is crucial because it gives leaders a safe space to share their issues with someone impartial and in turn, protects their team from leadership stress being pushed down onto team members,” says Routledge.
Don’t suppress emotions; regulate emotions – wouldn’t it be great if we had a switch to turn emotions on and off? Or even better, a dial to amend their strength. Unfortunately, we don’t, but even though you don’t have a physical switch or dial, you need to manage them. By repressing emotions (either consciously or unconsciously), you’re blocking them out, which can lead to depression, anxiety, sleep issues or an inability to manage stress.
Instead, you need a balance to manage and control your emotions, which can take time and practice, as effective emotional management can result in greater well-being.
Create a culture of psychological safety – As Jemetta explains, “The role of leaders in developing emotionally resilient teams is fundamental. Leaders need to start by creating psychological safety and trust. A simple and effective approach is to role model the behaviours you want to see in your people – openly share a challenging situation or strong emotion. Embed these positive behaviours into team meetings, team away days and 1:1’s. Normalise emotions at work as part of your culture and as a part of your own humanity.”
Be open about your emotions – it takes time, practice and often bravery to develop emotional management skills. However, as a tech leader, it can help to discuss your experience of differing emotions openly.
Jemetta agrees, “The next time you feel anxious about a presentation or angry about something a colleague has said, recognise the emotion. Describe how and why you feel that way to yourself, then share again with someone you trust. Do this enough, and over time, you’ll develop more awareness of yourself, your default responses and your coping strategies.”
Stress is not only a part of working life but part of life in some form or another. As leaders in technology, you may be expected to be emotionally invincible and there to support others before yourself. However, this is an impossible ask, and hiding or repressing emotions may lead to longer-term health issues. You can be emotionally resilient but still be affected by stress and still triggered by experiences or situations, but how you manage your emotions is the key.
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