how your favorite CEOs manage stress

William Atkinson, contributing writer

When Lynda Bader, president of Clear and Effective Communications (Portland, OR), discusses seminar opportunities with utility executives, they are quite happy to have her present programs on time management, communications, negotiation, and even conflict resolution. “However, it is very difficult to sell the idea for a stress management seminar to them,” stated Bader, who worked for ten years in a utility prior to becoming a consultant. “They don’t want to believe that stress is a problem. They seem to feel that, if they admit they need help managing stress, it’s somehow a sign of weakness.”

However, that mindset may be changing. Not all executives are in denial. Some have proactive ways to prevent stress. These are individuals who not only have incredibly busy work schedules, but are also actively involved in their communities, spending multiple hours a week as members of various boards and committees. What separates these executives from many others is that-rather than trying to cope with stress after the fact-they organize their lives in such a way that stress rarely occurs. They identified four specific strategies for stress prevention.

“- Delegate. Michael Chesser, chairman and CEO of Great Plains Energy, knew an executive who worked for G.E. Through a reorganization, the executive ended up with 20 direct reports, rather than the traditional six to eight. “I asked him how he did it, and he said it worked because he had 20 ‘strong players,'” recalled Chesser. “Since that time, I have always made sure to do the same thing. The people who report to me have strong capabilities and understand the full vision of the business.”

Donald Shalmy, president of Nevada Power, also understands the importance of delegation. “I have good people reporting to me,” he stated. “They can handle a lot of things that I don’t need to handle.”

“- Utilize your executive assistant. Shalmy emphasized the importance of having a top-notch assistant. “She can manage my appointments and meetings and handle calls,” he stated. “She knows which meetings are important and which calls I need to take.” She also keeps his calendar, which he calls his “roadmap for months ahead,” and she goes over it with him on a regular basis.

“- Plan. “You also need to have a disciplined management process in place where you routinely review the performance of the business with the people who report to you,” stated Great Plains’ Chesser.

William Gipson, president and CEO of Empire District Electric agreed. “We limit meetings to productive topics,” he stated. “We have a one-hour operational meeting each Monday.” This prevents the executives from having to interrupt each other during the week, since they all know what they need to be doing. “We also go off-site once a quarter for a strategic meeting,” he added.

Gipson also prioritizes his work, handling operational issues first, then, when he has extra time, going through reading material. “I get a lot of this done while travelling,” he stated.

“- Manage your time wisely. To get a jump on the day, Shalmy arrives at the office before 7 a.m. each day. “This lets me plan my day and prepare projects by myself before the phone starts ringing and people start demanding my time,” he explained.

Peter Cartwright, chairman, CEO and president of Calpine, makes it a point to clean his desk every night so he will be prepared for the next day’s work. “I also come in one Saturday a month to get everything in my office in order,” he added.

When you plan and organize your time as much as possible, crises will be few and far between. However, they will still crop up on occasion. “Make sure you have your priorities in order,” suggested Chesser. “When you do have to deal with a crisis, set aside things that aren’t time-sensitive, such as long-term strategy planning, to allow you to focus on the crisis.”

If you have a fairly ordered work life, according to Shalmy, you will experience few crises. “In addition, you will be more prepared to respond to them when they do occur,” he added. “I have found that, when I have control of my day and week, I feel much more comfortable dealing with emergencies.”

As a result of good planning, the crises that occur at Empire District tend to be the result of external factors, such as storms that damage field operations. “Even then, we have well-honed plans to address these situations,” stateed Gipson. “In other words, plan your work so you don’t have crises. Then, if you do have a crisis, have a plan in place to address it.”

All of these executives find that planning and time management go a long way in preventing stress from even occurring at work.

“Managing stress is not a ‘namby pamby, touchy feely’ thing,” emphasized John Reed, a consultant for senior utility management who works with Bernard Haldane Associates. “It is a prudent business decision that will improve your performance.”

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