Managing the Pain and Stress of Leading


I have taken on a lot of public work.  And I wonder if a dream last night resulted from my heightened notoriety.  I dreamed I was on my way to a meeting, with a group of CPAs who were announcing a generous program to help people with their taxes.  When I got to their building there was a great fat squirrel that seemed to want to get in the door.  I flicked it gently with my foot away from the door.  Then as dreams go sometimes, I continued to flip it away with my foot, thinking nothing of it.  Within an hour I found that YouTube was offering video of the first gentleman “repeatedly kicking a harmless squirrel.”  The local TV stations already had it on their website.  The dream was full of anxiety about how to extricate myself from this PR mess. 

Last week, I wrote about Ron Heifetz’ metaphor: leaders in authority conduct a lot of energy, as they try to meet all the needs and wants and cares of the group.  Once in the boss’ seat, the mayor’s chair, or the public’s eye, pressure mounts.  AND, scrutiny rises.  Whether it’s Scotter Libby, William Bennett, William Clinton, Rush Limbaugh, Anna Nicole Smith, Brittney Spears, a mayor, a CEO, or a coach’s husband, when human mistakes are made they are magnified for all the world to see.  If it’s always been true that “bad news travels fast,” in this internet world, bad news not only travels at hyper speed, but literally travels to the ends of the earth.  We are all human, prone to mistakes and excesses.  Yet when we’re in authority, our mistakes can become major distractions, completely undermining our ability to get people to focus on the work at hand. 

Is there hope?  Of being perfect, no.  But of managing the energy we are conducting, yes.  We may face great external and internal pressure to, for instance, turn around a failing school, balance the budget, make partner at the firm, or get our team into the playoffs.  How do we manage the creeping, invisible, and invasive pressure?  Step one is to gauge the pressure, to see it, and to be honest about the level of emotional pressure we are under.  Sometimes you see the pressure only from the symptoms: you’re drinking more, your stomach’s been a mess for two straight weeks, the migraines are coming more frequently, you are buying lottery tickets by the handful, or you’re continually raising your voice with your kids or your staff.  Step two is to own the job of managing the stress.  Stress affects you, and it will affect others, too, because people are plugged into you.  The energy you conduct, they also will feel.  Let me suggest the first step in management of stress: talk about it with someone – spouse, friend, rabbi, counselor, business coach.  Don’t just let it rattle around inside until it in some way eats you up or erupts onto the internet. 

If this unusually foreboding message doesn’t apply to you, you might watch those you love, especially those conducting much energy.  Be mindful of ways to ease your stress, or the pressure of those leading around you.  Heighten your sensitivity and remain honest about the symptoms that show up in reality, as you  

Lead with your best self, 


P.S.  Thanks to so many of you who ordered my book last week.  You helped propel me up Amazon’s list from 248,000th place on Monday morning, up to the 600s.   


  • congratulations on the success of the book!! It is enjoyable to read your newsletter and interesting to realize that you have discovered that dreams can have a profound message for our waking state. With the camera phones and reality internet sites it seems that privacy may not be available to any of us anymore. Perhaps “Big Brother” is here and in an unsuspected form of our own making.

    • Cindy,
      Thanks for your note. Your comment about Big Brother made me think of the famous Pogo cartoon: we have met the enemy and it is us!

  • Hi Dan,
    I have statred reading your book. I like the way your healthcare client discovered that presenting the company’s vision was not enough, even when modified to accomodate employee suggestions. There is a need to incorporate the employees vision as well. I had not thought of that …. too bad.

    P.S. I’m enjoying it very much. Glad to hear sales are doing well.

  • that story at the beginning made me laugh so hard!!! What a great way to start the day off! Congrats on how well your new book is doing!

  • Hi Dan,
    Congratulations for the success that you’re having with your book. I’m sure that this is just the beginning.
    STRESS; Hans Salyea defines stress as “an unspecified demand made on both the mind and body because the response includes both.” James Allen describes man “as a progressive and evolving being, man is where he is so that he may learn that he may grow; as he learns the spiritual lesson which any circumstance contains for him, it passes away and gives place to other circumstances.

    “That circumstances grow out of thought, every man knows who has for any length of time practiced self-control and self-purification, for he will have notices that the alteration in his circumstances is in exact ratio with his own mental condition. So true is this, that when a man earnestly applies himself to remedy the defects in his character, and makes swift and marked progress, as he passes rapidly through a succession of visissitudes.”

    Mother Teresa says “LIFE IS”: Opportunity, Benefit from it;
    Beauty, Admire it; A Dream,Realize it; A Challenge, Meet it;
    A Duty, Complete it; A Game, Play it; A Promise, Fulfill it;
    Sorrow, Overcome it; A Song, Sing it; A Struggle,Accept it;
    A Tragedy, Confront it; An Adventure, Dare it; Luck, make it; Life is Life, Fight for it.

  • Dan, the pain and stress of leading in a visible role are real; thank you for documenting them. And as you indicate, those pressures are amplified by the way that leaders are viewed and exposed in nearly every manner imaginable.

    The words of a visible leader are repeated [some in a different context], dissected, and critiqued from all angles. Worse, virtually every action of a visible leader affords a camera angle as your dream imagined. Leaders are incredibly vulnerable in that context, and must be prepared for that reality.

    As you noted, leaders who are most successful in coping with these realities do so with a good advisor / sounding board. I also see in the best a well-balanced ego, an easy-going personality and incredible personal integrity and discipline. That combination reduces the number of gaffes committed and improves recovery from those that inevitably occur.

  • Dan,

    This week’s message was very relevant and helpful for me. I have learned alot from your newsletters and just as much from watching people like Governor Granholm and how she skillfully deals with the ever present resistance, controversy, and criticism.

    As Chair of the Board of Trustees at LCC I have been through quite a bit. Someone told me a while ago that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. That has helped to deal with the stress, too.

    Thanks for everything you do.

  • What a great subject! I think of the news item I heard about how Michigan’s elected public officials don’t have to disclose their private financial interests, though most states require this. And the response from a certain official that they had a right to privacy and that it would deter successful people from seeking to serve. Once we become leaders, we are public and we might have to be caught flicking the squirrel away. We DO become public even when we serve even if we are not elected. And if we are truly successful, we should have an open book on that success. It isn’t a trade secret – and that’s what I like about your column. You share the wealth. Thanks!

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